Did the age of humiliation television brings about the age of humiliation politics?
Americans have been watching shows where contestants get ridiculed by the hosts for years, now we see the same behavior being played out in our politicians… and our readers
The Apprentice was not a television show I would watch. It is part of a genre I like to call humiliation television. You know the genre: the cooking show where those involved get told what awful cooks they are; the design show where would-be clothes designers have their dreams dashed as they are told they have no talent. There are people who seem to like these shows, millions of them watch every week. I know relatives who watch nothing else. I wonder why they get such pleasure from the pain of others.
The Apprentice is a particularly extreme version of the genre. In most shows, a panel of experts get to inflict the pain – on The Apprentice, Donald Trump saves the honor for himself. But in all the shows the hosts are particularly mean-spirited, taking particular glee in pointing out the weaknesses of the show contestants.
I don’t find this kind of television entertaining. In fact, I find it the opposite of entertaining. I find it embarrassing, phony – OK, I’ll say it, fake.
But we know that people’s fake radar is not efficient. They buy into fantasies of reality. The Apprentice or Project Runway is not supposed to be the real world. In the real world, at least the one we used to live in, people were expected to be polite to each other, coach employees, and wish that everyone could succeed. These shows are not about that, and should it surprise anyone that one of the attack lines during the campaign was against so-called political correctness?
These shows seem to have evolved from shows like American Idol – again, shows I hated because they always seemed to put someone on who was obviously terrible at whatever they were doing. Again, it felt fake, that they were placed there, not only to make the other contestants look good, but to allow the audience to laugh at the stooge. It was humiliation television, but a version where the humiliation was not at the center of the show, but only a part of it.
I bring this up, because I see strains of all this in what I read in the comment sections of news websites. It is not enough to simply defend a political position, but to humiliate the other side. I think it goes both ways, and we should watching out for it. Not only does it demean the conversation, it can reinforce the behavior.