Trashy reality TV should be guilt free

The Southerner

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“Loyalty, generosity and not crying on national television.” That is my family’s self-proclaimed motto. These words of wisdom were conceived after my parents, siblings and I finished watching a Survivor marathon together and witnessed countless contestants break down into heartbroken, humiliating and humorous tears.

Many trashy TV shows are dubbed simply “guilty pleasures,” which in this case refers to any shows that I might deny watching when I am chatting with an intellectual crowd. The second anyone initiates a conversation about one of those shamefully awful television shows, however, I immediately begin to spout information about my favorite characters and the latest fights, breakups or tear-ridden confessions.

Despite feeling a twinge of guilt whenever I watch such tasteless programs, I can honestly say that whenever I am able to find someone else who also watches — and admits to watching — the shows Big Brother, Survivor, or Dance Moms, I know I have found a new friend. On countless occasions, I have discussed, analyzed and dissected a recent dynamic episode in great depth with complete strangers. My taste in television shows not only serves as a constant source of embarrassment but as a bridge to form connections with others and a tool to strengthen relationships.

A couple of weeks ago, the finale for the TV show Pretty Little Liars premiered. Based on the amount of Facebook, Twitter and other social media attention it received, the broadcast must have been equivalent to the discovery of aliens. In addition, most of the people I observed the next day were either discussing the episode itself, or talking about how stupid the whole show was. Regardless of the topic, the show generated numerous conversations and arguments.

My family has also become more closely connected through watching reality TV shows together. Depending on which season it is, we will set aside a few hours on the weekends to have a Big Brother or Survivor marathon. My family and I look forward to these times all week, and leading up to watching the latest episode, we often debate over who will be eliminated from the competition next.

I am not the only one guilty of watching these shows; CNN reported that Here Comes Honey Boo Boo — a reality show that focuses on the life of a pint-sized beauty pageant star — was watched by approximately the same number of people within the key 18-49 demographic as the Democratic National Convention. A writer for The New Yorker magazine wrote an editorial article completely about Big Brother and how he avidly follows the show. A survey of the Grady community reveals that shows dealing with awful human beings who are stuck-up, stupid or annoying to watch (such as Bad Girls Club, Jersey Shore, and Love and Hip Hop) seem to top the most-watched list.

These guilty pleasures function as an escape for the weary brains that, after a long day of school or work, merely want to relax and watch shows that require absolutely no thought. I think this is precisely the reason that these appalling shows are so appealing: they provide a mental and emotional escape. It is also very reassuring to know someone else’s life is filled with either more challenges or stupidity than your own. While television shows like these may be so bad they are good, their powers of forging and strengthening bonds between family and friends make them more good than bad.

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