Monday, August 09, 2010

Morality TV

As I have recently gotten more into reality TV*, I have been pleasantly surprised/amused by how it has made me realize I could be a better person.

The most fascinating of the bunch, in a trainwreck/rubbernecking way, is True Beauty, a show where contestants are secretly judged on their "inner beauty." This season the premise was that the contestants were competing to be the "face of Vegas." While they are competing in challenges revealed to them (being voted the best tour guide on a bus tour, shooting the best ad for a restaurant wearing only food, etc.), the contestants are also being judged on their performance in hidden challenges (opportunities to steal, cheat, help someone, etc.). I initially felt somewhat dirty about the voyeurism of the show and about the hypocrisy of the judges (and the show itself!), who make fun of the contestants for not being nicer people. Human nature compelled me to continue watching, and though I found some of the criteria for evaluating inner beauty to be questionable (preferring sins of omission to sins of commission, etc.), the show made me realize how much nicer I could be. By the end the judges were splitting hairs--it came down to things like who threw a temper tantrum under pressure vs. who talked about other contestants behind their backs. I was impressed with some of the contestants' niceness despite being under the pressure of being on a reality show for weeks. It was refreshing to see diva behavior not being rewarded**.

Another show that is actually quality is What Would You Do?. In this show they set up hidden cameras at the site of various social experiments and see how onlookers react. For instance, they have someone stealing a bike and vary the gender and race. (When a beautiful blond woman steals a bike, everyone offers to help, even when she says it is not hers.) Some other scenarios include a girl at a bar being taken away by a stranger, shoppers who are the victims of racism, and a lottery ticket holder who is cheated by the store owner. For each scenario, they have interviews with academics who study the particular situation at hand, people who have been involved in similar real-life situations, and the people who walked into the hidden camera experiment. This show does a great job of making people aware of situations they should be aware of and providing some guidance on how to properly react. (For instance, it's important to speak up if you see a girl who you think may be assaulted because she could be killed.) Since this show is more serious and less flashy than True Beauty I have, unfortunately, only watched two or three episodes. (But don't let this stop you!)

While we're on the subject of reality TV, I would like to briefly discuss this season's The Bachelorette, starring Ali Fedotowsky. To paraphrase one of my friends, it's amazing: this woman is dating (at least, initially) 20+ guys and managing them well. Yes, the show can be cheesy and they sometimes cut the footage in a groan-inducing way, but the way Ali forms and maintains relationships with these men is quite interesting. (This is what courtship looks like when it's not through IRC!) I have gotten some of my friends hooked; I encourage you to check it out if you haven't already.

So... If you are waiting on work/e-mail responses for me, I have been hiring my, um, proxy to watch and summarize these shows for me. ;) (Okay, I need some form of entertainment while cooking, right?)

* Note that my relationship with TV is fairly new; at the end of the spring I was confused that the shows I watched were no longer on. (For those of you less aware of real life than I am: TV shows come in units of seasons.)
** But it's predictable that reality TV would have come to this. Rubbernecking in the lives of angry, unbalanced people has become so ten years ago.

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