Or, why reality TV doesn’t have to be so bad.
I love reality TV.
The list of the so-called trash TV shows I watch regularly is long and varied. This summer alone, I have dabbled in watching shows like Big Brother, Extreme Weight Loss, American Ninja Warrior, Teen Mom, The Bachelorette, Dance Moms, and So You Think You Can Dance.
My roommates good-naturedly make fun of me about this: I am an avid reader and I love exploring new ideas, new ways of thinking. I love reading books about industries and areas of the world I might never experience: the saga of a famous chef with aggressive tongue cancer (here! so good) or the reflections and musings of a radio host on what makes the most generous person (here–cried this was so sweet and inspirational). On my list are books about women in the military, books about life with an eating disorder, books about the intersection of faith and medicine–you get the idea. If I am not reading several books at once, I will be quoting any one of the seven hundred blogs I read at once. To you. In a conversation where you might not care about it. Promise. I love words and the ideas formed, stories told by putting them together–I think they are one of the ways God invites us to come alive in him.
I understand that watching reality TV, programming meant to entertain, scripted to create shock and awe, riddled with behaviors and speech that can be so sinful–I understand that this could seem to be a conflict of interest in a personality enamored with new ways to think and speak and live. (When I start to think in this prideful way, I remember that sometimes I orchestrate parts of my life to entertain and impress people. Very often, my behavior and speech can be sinful. Really all the time. These traits are not reserved solely for those who choose to go on reality TV shows.)
I’m not so sure that these shows have absolutely zero learning potential. I think my curiosity might stem from the thought that these shows do teach me a little bit more about a world I may never enter, and about people with whose lives mine otherwise would not overlap.
You wanna know my favorite part of a reality TV show?
The glimpses of humanity, of real people created in the image of God, trying to make meaning of this life-experience-business they are having. The interviews in the Bachelorette where one of the Bachelor-hopefuls, frustrated, explains why he wishes the one-on-one date was his this week instead of “the other guy’s”. I love that the contestant’s name, age, hometown, and occupation always flash up on the screen, reminding me that even though this person is competing on a TV show that the whole world either ridicules or idolizes, this person is still a person. A prized creation of our sovereign Lord, desired and pursued by Christ.
The first transgender contestant on this season of Big Brother? Absolutely prized by the Lord.
Abby Lee Miller, ruthless dance coach on Dance Moms? Jesus loves and pursues her.
Any one of the morbidly obese participants on Chris Powell’s Extreme Weight Loss show? The Lord lovingly created all those people for a reason.
When all the contestants are first introduced on a TV show like this, we’re invited into their lives, if only for 45 seconds. When people get to say: “This town and this job and these friends and these traits and morals and behaviors–this is who I am,” that is the good stuff. That is good because then I can remember, really remember and drill down into my brain, that this person exists on Earth right now for a purpose, a purpose designed by a loving God, and this is a person who I have just had the privilege of meeting (please widen your definition of “meeting” for me!). Even if my first instinct might be to mock someone for going on a reality TV show, I have no business doing that.
I recently heard this quote: “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
This past semester I learned that each person we encounter is a prized creation of our sovereign Lord, desired and pursued by Christ. Over the past few weeks, I have realized a couple more things about this prized creation business:
Everyone has a story.
Everyone is trying to tell that story.
I love stories.
Staying in the room where I am the smartest (this room is not densely populated, I promise) lets me stay in my comfort zone, believing that my perspective is the most important. Finding new rooms to make myself small and learn about lives I might never otherwise encounter? That’s what I want to push myself to do.
The weight of our humanity’s sin and depth of God’s love for each of us is not moderated by whether we appear on a TV show or choose to engage in more “noble” pursuits. I’d like to think that learning new things on otherwise “trashy” TV shows, along with watching the Snapchat stories from cities around the world and reading books about careers I will never ever have and watching TED talks and signing up for email lists so that other people’s stories are sitting in my inbox and especially opening our lives and homes and stories to people over and over again: this is the way to open the door to a new room. This new room is one where I might not be the smartest but man, am I excited to learn.