I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: Reality television is, in many ways, the 21st century equivalent of the old-fashioned circus sideshow. In bygone days, we’d put a “bearded lady” or “two-headed baby” on show for public ridicule and entertainment. Nowadays, it’s hoarders, it’s people trying to navigate a 600-pound life. And we watch, with a combination of revulsion and fascination and self-righteousness.
Let’s start with the hoarders. It’s clear to most of us that these people have a mental and emotional glitch in their thought processes, a disconnect that causes them to find their security in “stuff,” and to be unable to recognize when that stuff has lost its value. We watch in horror and disbelief as they struggle with cleaning up their lives (literally and figuratively), and we feel superior that our homes don’t look like *that* … while their family members ridicule and bully them into submission, and well-meaning mental health workers try to make them understand that they’re wrong. We shake our heads. And we keep watching.
Many of them will submit to the process of cleaning up their homes, but when the network visits them later, they’ve gone back to their old ways … because the trash was never the problem. But we shake our heads again at their “weakness,” and feel superior.
Then there are the morbidly obese. Once again, we watch in fascination and horror as we enter the lives of those who can’t stop eating, who have become bedridden, who are lonely and confused and broken. Those around them either enable them, or bully them. They’re frightened. They feel misunderstood. And we shake our heads and say “they did it to themselves.” When they finally meet with the doctor who may (or may not) agree to perform weight-loss surgery, they discuss the person’s weight and eating habits as if that was the problem. As if it was all simple math, calories in, calories out.
But if you struggle with your weight (as I have for most of my life), you know it’s both a matter of head and heart. Intellectually, we know about calories and exercise. Intellectually, we know that our habits are negatively affecting our health – but the weight struggle isn’t a logical exercise. It’s fraught with emotion, and that emotion doesn’t get addressed on many of these shows. So we watch, and we ridicule, and we blind ourselves to the pain.
Let’s check ourselves. When we consume “entertainment” based on voyeurism of others’ pain, let’s stop for a second to reflect. Yes, these people were paid for their stories, but their stories are only a commodity if we treat them that way. We look at their trauma and pain, and feel superior. We think we know better, that we do better. We think it could never happen to us.
Let’s be a little kinder today, in every area of our lives. I’m going to try.