In Defense Of Watching Stupid People On Television

It seems the gloves have come off recently, and everybody and their brother is climbing on their high horse about the level of stupidity on television. I’m not sure why there seems to be this sudden upsurge of feeling superior to those who tune in to such things as Jersey Shore, which seems to be a major culprit in the upturn, but it’s gotten to the point that it bears examination. As though tuning in for the State of the Union somehow makes one less stupid than spinning the dial (play along, I’m old) in any other direction, or, in point of fact, is anything less of a ludicrously scripted bit of televised nonsense.

Even before such historic points of reference as the Court Jester or the town fool, people have been finding entertainment in the hopelessly stupid (whether a true case of mental acuity, or cunning ruse) for as long as certain members of society have been able to distinguish themselves from the general pool of stupidity around them.

Whether you partake of Judge Judy (and whether your aim is the Judge herself or the litigants), Big Brother, The Hills, just about everything on E!, or, to be blunt, Nightline, it isn’t long before you realize that there is precious little entertainment to be found beyond mocking the stupid. If certain shows, like Jersey Shore of course, are put together by people looking to make a buck, and have as their only positive feature the audience’s ability to laugh along with the “You’re so stupid that you’ll actually let yourself be on this show” joke within a joke… where’s the harm really?

Sure, we might have been rid of Sooki had we just left her on the “she’ll soon forget to breathe” road of life, but so long as she’s still more or less out of our way, and I get to have one less order screwed up at McDonald’s, isn’t that good enough? If the people on such shows somehow manage to remain unaware that they are only watched for comedic value, is that really a problem? People still show up at Judge Judy, don’t they? And, if we keep those morons from clogging up the real courts, isn’t the overall value of the show in the win-win category?

And really, isn’t not knowing they’re being ridiculed a big part of the fun? I mean, look at Toddlers & Tiaras and/or its close cousin Little Miss Perfect. As if these shows weren’t bad enough in general, last night I watched a boy win some contest with Miss in the title. These are the sorts of shows that remind me that I am not cut out to be a television producer, because if you pitched me the idea, it would never have occurred to me that any of these people would agree to be on the show (especially considering that there is some chance CPS has access to television sets).

You may watch these child pageant shows because you have a curious desire to watch things that make your skin crawl. You may even watch because there is a certain fascination akin to that of shows like Hoarders (which is not to be made fun of). But, whatever leads to your decision to watch, it isn’t the idea that here are some perfectly normal people with a bit of a hobby, and let’s see what their lives are like. No, much like the crux of NASCAR appeal, you tune in because you’re simply hoping that one of these people will explode before your eyes. Sure, there’s less chance it will happen, but on the upside, you wouldn’t feel so bad about cheering if it did.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Huh. Not my shows,” as you polish your pince-nez, but you might want to take a cold, hard look at what you watch. Watching stupid people for the sake of watching stupid people is everywhere, and unless you’re exclusively watching scripted shows and PBS you probably aren’t as safe as you think… and even then you might want to double-check yourself. Don’t even get me started on my recent surprise when SNL featured a skit mocking Kathy Lee on The Today Show. I was lamenting the downturn in SNL‘s abilities until I tuned in the following Monday for an Oh My God moment. Even the most serious of news shows probably only get about 40% of their ratings from actual fans, while the rest come from “This Jackass is still on” viewers.

So, listen, keep your stupidity snobbery in check from now on, and don’t think your viewing habits are as rooted in intelligence as all that. Keep in mind that virtually all forms of entertainment in human history got there start with one guy saying to the other, “Look at these idiots.”

Besides, some of us want to watch The Soup.

Are You Screening?

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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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