Reality TV and the Culture Factory

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Over the past year or so I have been teaching on the idea that culture is like a conveyor belt. The raw material going into the culture factory are songs, stories, and things passed on from one generation to another. Further down are the things like the educational system, media, and the like. And at the end of the conveyor belt is politics.

This morning I was reading an article on Jeb Bush and this line jumped out at me.

“In today’s theater of bloviating showmen, viral sound bites and platitudes passing as policy, people like Bush who prefer experience and a more thoughtful approach to complex issues will never be appreciated. He’s a Charlie Rose kind of guy trapped in a Donald Trump reality show — miscast in a movie he would have no interest in seeing.”

All is happening as it should in the culture factory.

About 15 years ago reality TV began to take over. Reality TV is is no longer about producing fantasy. People are watching real people in “real” situations. And if you notice, the trend in reality TV has been to find the fringiest segments of society and immerse viewers in them. So over the past ten years we have seen nudists, polygamists, transexuals, and occultists all living their lives before us in “real time.” This is not fantasy and so the line between make-believe and our real lives has been erased. And it has a real impact.

This Republican primary race is being run like a reality show, and if you have any doubts just notice how every debate has been like “Celebrity Death Match.” There is no surprise that the only candidate with reality TV experience is doing well. He knows how to do the candid asides (Trump does this “breaking the fourth wall” really well in his speeches). And Trump also knows that the news cycle and the country’s attention span has been trained to be short. So far he has been able to use these skills to stay on top. Jeb, like so many other members of the “Old Boys Club” in the Republican establishment is really more concerned about playing by the rules, knowing the right people, and keeping himself afloat. That doesn’t make for good reality TV.

This is why we really need to pay attention to trends. Maybe  we will see Downton Abbey’s impact in a few years.

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