Education|October 20, 2010 1:27 pm

Reality TV Killed My Brain and Truth

Reality TV is not all evil. But it certainly has warped our sense of what reality is. Consider Dragon’s Den. We see a 30 second pitch followed by a decision made in a minute or two. Someone watching the show religiously might be tempted to think that a judgment about a business idea can be as quick. It’s easy to ignore and forget the hours spent interviewing the entrepreneur prior to the show and the hours, possibly days or weeks of due diligence after a deal is struck.

There is very little of reality in reality TV. The edited dialogue, the dramatic turns, the quick images only give us the perception of experiencing reality. We feel that we are experiencing the real thing when in fact we are being fed digestible biscuits. There may be nothing wrong with getting the highlights, but seriously, let’s not mistake the news for the whole story or the appetizers for the whole meal.

Then there is the other kind of “reality” TV where every inane pointless detail about people’s lives are documented for the public to see. It’s like Robert McKee says in his book Story,

The weakest possible excuse to include anything in a story is: “But it actually happened.” Everything happens; everything imaginable happens. Indeed, the unimaginable happens. But story is not life in actuality. Mere occurrence brings us nowhere near the truth. What happens is fact, not truth. Truth is what we think about what happens.”

Extending that thought, the quality of the thinking will determine the quality of the truth. Not all truths are equal just as some stories are mediocre and other stories are masterpieces that transcend time and culture.

The illusion of reality TV – reality as highlights or reality in its minutia – arise from the same fundamental challenge: mortals are not omniscient. Consequently we have to choose what is significant to pay attention to. If we don’t choose, we have it chosen for us… by our family, our friends, our society.

Reality TV shows are produced to entertain us. We can gossip about who so and so did or laugh at the dalliances of the rich and famous or go on adventures of ordinary people. Entertainment is fine, but what if it is at the expense of other more significant aspects of reality? What if there are global economic forces at work or growing water shortages or wars resulting indirectly from our lifestyle? These realities have more impact on us than who was kicked out in last night’s show, yet we avoid it and deny it. We barely register its knocking at the door while the TV is on.

We have other things to be worried about of course. We have groceries to buy, dinner to cook, work to be done, friends to socialize with, and fun to be had. Unfortunately not being interesting or not caring doesn’t eliminate our ignorance.

So what to do?

Part of the answer lies in creating our own “Significant Reality TV Show”. Our time is limited. We can’t learn everything. We can, however, tap into our deep caring and curiosity of the world and find more meaningful channels to take in. What if we created our own comprehensive basic cable channel that brought into our lives thoughtful, caring, wise authors, journalists, artists, scientists, politicians? It’d be like TED.com on steroids. Imagine how connected we all would be to reality.

Unfortunately, my brain is not yet trained to feed on healthy stories all the time. I like my action movies and occasional CSI episode. I am comfortable in my denial of reality, and society conspires to help me in my denial. Nevertheless, I know it’s possible to develop a taste for the significant and the meaningful. Bruce Lee once said,

It’s like drinking fine wine, one acquires a taste for it. One does not acquire a taste for watered down wine.

Chris Hsiung
U Venture
Better Life… Better Business
uventure.net

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3 Comments

  • Great thought and wonderful sharing on this, Chris. And funny that when I had an opportunity to sit down with Arlene from the Dragon’s Den, how much of the back story is missed. The fact that they do a season on taping in one week. So the dragons are overwhelmed with presentations by the end of the week.

    And that only about a quarter of the deals that are made on the show actually see the money, based on lawyers and researches confirming the story that the people that come on the show are telling are actually true.

    Arlene has a full time MBA graduate that spends all of his time reviewing and analyzing what comes from the show. But not all the Dragons have the same process.

    Anyways.

    Have a great day.

  • Hi Chris
    I’m currently reading Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion. Hedges argues that in our image-based society, many of us ask to be disillusioned —by reality TV, by pornography, by world wrestling entertainment, etc. He says political discussion has been replaced by cliches, literacy has been ousted for emotion and production has been traded for consumerism. When a population consents to a dumbed-down version of life, where stereotypes eclipse the complexities of society, there exists fertile ground for totalitarianism. Scary stuff. Perhaps you’ve read it?

  • Hi Bob,

    Empire of Illusion is a great if infuriating read. Chris Hedges is mightily angry at the way North American society shields itself from reality. I think you can see how a consumer culture plays into our bio-social need for acquiring and hunting for stuff.

    Hunting and gathering use to be meaningful because it contributed to our survival. Today we can pretend that survival is not an issue anymore. Survival is based on succeeding within the matrix of society even if that society is headed for a cliff.

    Scary stuff indeed! But we shouldn’t deny it.

    Chris

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