Our growing obsession with extremely unrealistic reality stars

Cultural cadence


I was slouching in my seat in the middle of Oracle Arena, talking with my friends beside me, waiting for Kanye to come onstage and blow my mind when the shrillest shriek I may have ever heard pierced the air behind me. Was someone dying? Did someone have a gun? Did someone just throw up all over some girl’s face? No, please, these are all minor events that wouldn’t cause half the reaction. This was truly crazy and truly significant: Kris Jenner, the kool keeper of the krazy Kardashian kids, was making an entrance to the arena and was taking her seat in a special VIP section that was clearly in sight. I was simply ecstatic that I just endured an elevated heart rate and an immediate decline into my primal cautionary instincts as a result these girls yelling at the top of their lungs, “Krrrriiiissss!”

Everyone in the arena turned and stared, transfixed, as if she were the Second Coming of Christ — back off, Kris; that’s your soon-to-be son-in-law’s job. This intense fixation on the reality TV star was baffling yet not completely so, because the incredible fame and notoriety bestowed upon such people has suddenly become a societal norm.

The rise in popularity of reality TV has naturally coincided with the rise of obsession with the people who inhabit these shows. But most of the time, this leads to the devaluation of the celebrity status and, bluntly, results in dumb and repulsive people displaying their dumb and repulsive ways to millions of people who just eat it up like it’s a 10-course meal at Chez Panisse.

The term “celebrity” used to hold some merit. Someone would be so talented in a particular area of expertise and so charismatic and so larger-than-life that people couldn’t help but adore and respect him or her. Now, this still rings true in some regard. There are still those people who warrant such attention and perform — either in movies, TV, music, radio or any other public medium — at an incredibly high standard — shout-out to the Leo DiCaprios of the world. Reality TV, however, has propelled undeserving and appalling people to the same lofty level that certified stars occupy, making the term “celebrity” ever so ambiguous.

It rewards those who are willing to be the most ridiculous, the most embarrassing and to cause the most drama and controversy. Although (side note) I do acknowledge the effort exerted in finding drama and starting fights over the most mundane daily occurrences. That just seems exhausting — my heart wouldn’t be able to take so much labor. Anyway, it encourages outrageous behavior and, in turn, may even make people think that the way of life portrayed on TV is normal and that maybe, if they act in a similar manner, they will also get their own popular show on E! Network.

What keeps coming to mind is “Jersey Shore.” Remember those orange, gelled, bro-tank-wearing specimens who became famous for partying at clubs every night and GTL-ing? And if you don’t know what GTL stands for by now, welcome to the world. People obsessively watched these people’s insane escapades, and, suddenly, the likes of Snooki and The Situation were strolling down red carpets, bumping into the Leo DiCaprios of the world — bless Leo DiCaprio. It was presented as reality, and if someone’s life wasn’t as exciting as those of these Joisey boys and girls, then he might try to spice up his own lives in order to more closely resemble the supposed “reality.” No, you won’t become the next reality TV star if you do this. You will become a 30-year-old slob living on your parents’ couch who still tries to get your professional friends to go out clubbing and who will still be the proud recipient of a beer belly no matter how much gymming you do. Now that would be a situation.

The reality stars instill the possibility of waking up the next day and being famous. But more often than not, the reasons these people become famous are degrading, immoral or just downright repulsive. The notorious example — getting back to those Calabasas powerhouses — is Kim Kardashian, who became focused in the popular eye due to the release of a sex tape. People seeing such actions so glamorously rewarded is a problem, especially when a majority of these people are impressionable tweens and teens who are at the crucial point of deciding right from wrong, moral from immoral.

In addition to reality TV showering praise on immoral acts, there are several instances in which mere stupidity is showcased. Why is it that people saying or doing dumb things is deemed valuable enough to be broadcast to a mass audience?

So many times while watching a reality TV show, I look over to my fellow watchers, whose eyes are the size of the stars’ brains and whose mouth gape in complete disbelief. One of my favorite examples is from the most recent season of “The Bachelorette.” During one of the extravagant dates, the bachelorette asked her suitor to give three adjectives to describe falling in love. His response: “Running, jumping and the finish line.” I have another adjective to describe falling in love that I am shocked he didn’t mention: “Potato.” Also, on “The Amazing Race,” as contestants were told their next stop was Taiwan, one of the racers graced us with his incredible insight: “I know nothing about Taiwan, except I think Thai food is pretty good.” I mean, this guy does have a point. I love crepes, too. And there’s a lot more where that came from: Just turn on any reality TV show and watch for about 20 seconds.

So, what is the appeal of and fascination with these (generally) dim-witted and shocking members of society who somehow persuaded a camera to follow them around in all their glory? It has to be the phenomenon known as the “fascination with the abomination” — in which people are intrigued by the very things that repulse them or go against everything they believe in. It’s similar to when there’s traffic on the freeway because people can’t keep their eyes off the accident on the side of the road. People can’t stop themselves from being deeply engrossed in the little and constructed “reality” world that is unfolding before them simply because it is so beyond the realm of anything that ever happens in their reality. It makes everyday routines all of us do seem capable of being eventful and exciting.

Or perhaps it’s because we look toward these people as a source of entertainment because of their over-the-top behavior and their dim comments. We laugh at it and shrug it off as being ridiculous. Or maybe the adoration is because people feel a connection to the reality stars because they were just average people like themselves. It makes a connection with them more real and attainable than the apparent perfection of “real” celebrities. I must say, however, I hope this possibility isn’t true. I’d be a bit alarmed if someone saw a bit of himself in the parents of “Toddlers and Tiaras.” But hey, that’s just me.

Either way, there is no denying the grip these reality stars have on the world. Their popularity not only promotes the imaginary merits of acting foolish or immoral, but it also fills our time with nonstimulating and unintelligent nonsense. Yet people will continue to watch these shows. But as long as these reality stars are recognized for what they are and people have a healthy relationship with them, I guess we can all just sit back and laugh.

Image courtesy of idccollage.

Contact Taran Moriates at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @taranmoriates.