TV realivision

Have you ever been in a fight with someone and realized that it had no purpose? Or heard a friend passing on some gossip about others? Perhaps you’ve competed with someone, stopped talking over an argument, or taken offense to a comment. Maybe you told others about it, wrote a passive-aggressive post on your favorite social network, and deleted the contact in your phone. Shows them right.

Sensitivity to criticism, rash decisions, exaggerated displays of emotion, inappropriately seductive behavior, rapidly-shifting emotional states, and approval-seeking — all behavior that’s worthy of being the center of attention, to be sure. This is how people take (rather than earn) their fifteen minutes of fame in their own little worlds.

The trouble is, these traits are known to psychiatrists as histrionic personality disorder.

Why do we love drama so much?  Kurt Vonnegut once wrote (neatly summarized by Derek Silvers – a worthwhile read here) that we’re addicted to drama because our lives are essentially mundane.  Yet, we’re trained by stories from a young age that dramatic variations in emotional state are actually the norm.

So when we experience real life in all its banal stability, we feel like we’re missing something. We seek out drama as moths to light because it is often quite literally the only light in our lives. And many people create their own drama where there is none.

This is harmless and natural when people play plot line madlibs but fill their own behavior in the blanks. It’s a very different story when people emulate exaggerated behaviors as they act out their own life dramas.

Enter reality television.

It turns out, growing up with Cinderella is not the same as growing up with The Jersey Shore. Reality shows have two central propositions: everything is unscripted, and the actors are people just like you and me.

That’s a toxic combination. It sets up the behaviors in the show as being normal, expected, and worthy of aspiring to. So when people watch a lot of reality TV, they start acting out the characters in the show in their own life dramas. The ‘reality’ trend greatly exacerbates our natural tendency for drama-seeking as expressed in the soap operas of the past.

So it’s no surprise that I avoid people who watch a lot of reality TV almost as much as I avoid watching it myself.

But we can rediscover our real realities, and find meaning in the silence and humdrum of normal days. Yes, it’s much easier to get attention and make life exciting by picking a fight, talking behind peoples’ backs, and making things happen in your relationships. But here’s a counter-proposal: use relationships as a source of stability rather than drama.  We can channel the desire for attention and excitement into creating, changing, and improving ourselves and the world around us.

I haven’t turned on the TV in years — either on a screen or in my real life — and I’ll never look back.

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