I'm one of those people who refuses to watch reality TV on sheer principle. (Well, OK....I did watch MTV's Real World. But that series started over 10 years ago, pre-dating the current Reality Series craze.)
And that principle is, I don't believe in the merit of watching people treat each other with little to no respect in order to win money and prizes. I could go on at length further about all the whys and whatnots....but what I really want to do is point dKos readers to a fantastic blog entry on a little known blog that I've been reading for several years--an entry that ties together Reality TV, the Roman Empire, the Religious Right and the erosion of our civil liberties....and does so with great skill. Who knew it was all so connected?!
delves into a variety of current topics and connects those topics with past history. In Kit's most recent entry, she takes on the topic of Reality TV:
I have been thinking for some time about my gut-deep dislike of so-called 'Reality TV' shows, but it wasn't until a friend mentioned her views against them that I could put into words the reasons why I hate them:
Reality TV is the contemporary American version of Roman circuses.
People are stripped of their humanity, humiliated, made to endure trials in a rigged system, all for the entertainment of an uncaring crowd. Ordinary human kindness is considered a weakness; it's back to kill or be killed, and whether that death is the white death of public humiliation or the red death of blood is only a matter of degree. But fights to the death in the Coliseum were at least honest; many 'reality' shows are scripted, down to the last turn of a head or tear on a cheek, robbing them of even that shred of reality. Then there are the 'swap' shows, such as the one where two families exchange wives for a week or two, and the resulting familial chaos is filmed for the entertainment of the crowd. This shows the least desirable attributes of all the people concerned, and exposes them to ridicule without any pretense of allowing privacy when one or another family member is distressed. And there are the 'dare'-type shows, which are as close a reversion to the arena as so-called family television might allow. Get buried in maggots? Stay in a cage with rats? Be imprisoned underwater? The line between human choice in accepting challenges and an unwitting acquiescence to being tortured stretches very thin at times. At best, such treatment of human beings is an attempt to turn them into objects of scorn; beyond that it often becomes outright cruelty and dehumanization. Can anyone really consent to be part of this sort of abuse without losing part of his or her humanity? Where is kindness, generosity or compassion shown in these shows, other than to be ridiculed?
For those of you who didn't study Latin or Roman history, let me offer a brief overview (that I'm sure someone with more knowledge will correct in the comments): During the Roman republic, contests of skill and prowess between warriors were not uncommon, and were ritualized to a degree, but weren't made matters of public spectacle. Wild animals might be sacrificed publicly to the appropriate deity, for instance, but that occurred at the deity's temple or holy place of worship, not in a public arena. It was only with the rise of the empire -- and the resulting large population of disposable slaves from conquered territories -- that Rome as a whole embraced the concept of public gladiatorial combat and animal fights as a means of pacifying the crowd. That was when the Circus Maximus and the Coliseum were built to house such events, when a subculture of gladiators and trainers and animal hunters grew to satisfy the unending desire for blood on the sand. The audience at the events had the ability to vote on whether defeated fighters should live or die -- thumbs up, thumbs down -- but the emperor had the final say.
She goes on to talk about the history of the Roman empire but brings the topic back to current day America.
The America we live in has, at times, been considered to be growing into an empire -- this has been said ever since the Spanish-American War in 1898 -- but only recently has its leadership begun to ally itself with an all-but-official religion, the Reconstructionist or Dominionist form of Protestantism. This version of Protestantism is heavily laced with dualistic Calvinist doctrines of the fallibility, sinfulness and innate wretchedness of mankind as a counterpoint to the glorious attributes of deity. And, as in Roman times, those who do not accept this version of religious belief are to be persecuted until they convert. Since Reconstructionists advocate changes in American law to embrace the nastier penalties in the Old Testament, it would not be surprising to see them attempt to legislate death for homosexuality, stoning for adultery or for teens who mouth off at their parents, and so on.
It's no secret that the Religious Right section of the Republican Party takes the credit for keeping George Bush in office. It's also no secret that James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and others from far-right religious organizations are consulted before policy decisions are made. But the 'official religion' goes further. When Bush says his actions are divinely guided, it's not the same as when Jimmy Carter talks about his faith. Jimmy Carter's faith includes working with Habitat for Humanity to personally hammer nails into boards and build houses for people who need them. There is no evidence anywhere that George Bush's faith includes doing anything for anyone who really needs help -- what used to be considered ordinary charitable Christian works, such as feeding the poor, clothing the naked, helping those without shelter to find homes, healing the sick and visiting those in prison -- which is why in the above discussion I've not used the word 'Christianity' to describe Reconstructionist beliefs. Bush may well not be an avowed Reconstructionist, but he has never gone against their views in his programs, which makes him their ally in the creation of a theocratic empire with himself at its head. Later Emperors weren't shy about having the Praetorian Guard get rid of anyone who attempted to protest their actions (and this was paid for with tax money from Roman citizens); Bush isn't shy about making sure the audiences for his tax-supported speeches are filled only with Republican supporters, while anyone who appears to diverge from this orthodoxy is ejected by people claiming to be the Secret Service.
Kit goes on to tie this all together with the erosion of our civil liberties......I've excerpted enough. Now go read the whole thing. It's really worth a careful read.