Christmas week is always a busy one: lights to be strung, a tree to trim, gifts to be wrapped, cards to write. By evening, I just want to set the list aside, pour a glass of wine, and sink into a chair where I can bathe in the warm glow of the television.
Reality shows have become much more numerous than I remember. Many, though, seem less of a competition than a showcase for the loud, foolish, and strange. America’s funniest…dumbest…The Biggest Loser…World’s worst chef. I know that Britain is not all University Challenge and Masterchef, but I don’t remember this density of ‘Big Brother’-style fare either.
Reality shows of any sort seem relatively rare on Dutch television: a cooking competition and a good-natured version of Survivor are the two I regularly encounter.
So I sip my wine and nurse the simple question of whether Europeans prefer aspirational shows while Americans seek out contestants who they can feel superior to.
Coincidently, Slate magazine published a piece the next day that explored the nature of American narcissism: are we self absorbed because we believe we are exceptional, or because we lack self-confidence? In the reflected glow of reality television, I think it’s the latter. No matter how wobbly our own competence, it’s better than the women sleeping with their sister’s boyfriends or the men racing supercharged lawnmowers.
A friend suggested that it may have begun with the quiz show scandals,unmasking intellectuals as cheats. Or perhaps it has to do with the current wave of populism, where elites are giving way to Everyman on every level.
Or maybe it’s just that, after a hard day’s work, nobody really wants to be challenged that they don’t know enough or their dinner presentation was inadequate. Escapism, pure and simple.
Even if it is a date with The Biggest Losers.