The traveling circus and freak show concept may not be a hot seller anymore, but sometimes it seems that parts of the mass media have run away to join the circus anyway.
I’m referring to reality television and the media that benefit from reporting on it. It’s a brilliant business idea. Reality television cuts out the need for professional actors, writers and lots of other money-sucking jobs and maximizes profits by replacing them with people desperate and willing to do what it takes to get on the air.
Reality TV, for all its monetary value, encourages exploitation of people, not unlike the circus freak shows of years past. One network, TLC, portrays itself as a kind of socio-cultural learning experience. TLC takes “extreme” families, from pageant competitors to couponers, and edits them into bizarre walks of life that are so off what “normal” Americans are that they apparently deserve to be filmed. It turns actual people into one-dimensional caricatures defined by their hobbies, means of survival or behavior in conflict.
We gawk, we want to know more and we want to make judgments. The Kardashian family, as many note, aren’t really famous for anything other than being willing to live public lives. But in all actuality, they’re famous because we like to make moral judgments and decide whether they’re in line with what’s normal.
Reality TV, while not the cause, also exemplifies a growing trend of oversharing. By sharing their intimate details, the Real Housewives of Bravo, the Kardashians and the Honey Boo Boo family have all become famous and somehow important to the nation. In similar fashion, it seems everyone wants to live their life publicly.
But how much is too much when sharing your life? When I look at any of my social media feeds, I see a range of personal problems vented to the public: troubled relationships, mental and physical illness updates, weight-loss blogs, outfit-of-the-day blogs, photos of pets and children and, of course, the random “selfie” takers. You know what I’m talking about, right? Maybe you do one or all of these things.
I’m not saying these people are just trying to be famous like reality stars because, on one hand, I think I get it. Why should you have to suffer, celebrate or just exist in silence? You have a story and it deserves to be told. Social media is kind of life-affirming in that way. Unlike generations before us that felt the need to conceal their darkest issues, we are a generation of people who desire to make the non-dominant or culturally accepted way of life accepted and understood.
But this is not a single-handed man we’re dealing with. The other side of the issue is the value of and right we have to privacy. Even if they did it willingly, should we really be gawking at what’s on display?
All you can conclude is that it’s advisable to be conscious of what you’re exhibiting. Putting your life out there allows people to edit it and make judgments. If you post dramatically and emotionally, you run the risk of being viewed as a spectacle. Maybe future employers or would-be friends see what you post and decide they don’t want any part of that.
You’re at risk, just like a reality star. But then again, maybe that’s part of your life — who you are or were – and you should be proud of it. Even if it’s not you anymore, maybe you don’t want to hang out or work for the people who judge that negatively.
The people at Bravo or TLC could edit even the most boring of lives, including mine, and make it a really dramatic freak show, too. It’s important to remember that and not judge a family by their show, or a person by their social media. The edits are almost always selecting one reality while deflecting another.
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