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January 3, 2017

The Reality of Reality TV.

There is a revolution at hand.

A revolution that, oddly enough, isn’t even being completely perceived, let alone fought. In all honesty, I think it’s been scarcely noticed until the last decade or so, and even now, many are still just as blind to this iron-willed tide of change as they were before the fact.

It’s a sneaky sort of revolution. The kind many would like to overlook out of mere complacency. So, what exactly am I talking about?

We live in a generation of comparisons. A “notification generation.” We are force-fed so much information through the media on a daily basis that we might as well be mainlining the sh*t. We have erected invisible empires—Instagram, Twitter, Facebook—all serving as our social media boneyards.

We feed on each other’s drama, being brought up in a society that, from a young age, pushes us to distinguish ourselves. How are we going to separate ourselves from the whole? Be an individual? Win it big? Make our golden opportunity into a “successful life?”

This line of thinking hints at the answer to the question: Why is reality TV so popular? What do we find so compelling? Well, our culture has been indoctrinated into thinking that to be good at anything you have to tell people that you’re good at it. We have been duped into a false understanding of what true talent and bad-assery is. Modesty is a virtue of the past.

In today’s world, people are only fit for the job if they have the loudest and most articulate mouth. You have to be flashy to compete and to win.

Yet this country was founded on different ideals. Yes, the idea of manifest destiny demonstrated through westward expansion took land from those who were native to its beauty, and we can never truly remedy that historical disgrace. But a peek into our very first president’s journal shows that George Washington was much closer to the stuff of legends then any current political figure. Courageous and talented in many arenas, he was humble most of all. An actual hero.

Don’t just take it from me though. Meredith Eliassen, Reference Specialist with the Special Collections Department at San Francisco State University, writes:

Washington believed that external appearance should reflect inner merit. He possessed a tall, commanding physical presence that warranted development of grace and public humility. For example, although Washington was actually six feet, three and a half inches tall, he often told people he was only six feet tall. Further, he refused to take a salary for public service from the people, only applying to Congress to be reimbursed for expenses. [1]

Furthermore, when he was elected to the job of president, Washington insisted that he wasn’t qualified for such a position. An excerpt from his journal states:

While I realize the arduous nature of the task which is conferred on me and feel my inability to perform it, I wish there may not be reason for regretting the choice. All I can promise is only that which can be accomplished by an honest zeal.” [2]

Renowned American Writer and historian Ron Chernow confirms, “This sentiment of modesty jibed so perfectly with Washington’s private letters that it could not have been feigned; he wondered whether he was fit for the post, so unlike anything he had ever done.” [2]

Nowadays, we are so accustomed to flashy and fast paced debauchery, rocket fueled communication, and instant information that we often fail to notice when someone is truly a badass in disguise. We have become blind to subtlety.

Unfortunately, so much of what makes our world special and alive and what separates the average from the heroic tends to be in these humble details—the little things, in all of their immensity. But, for the most part, unless we have Kanye telling us, “My greatest pain in life is that I will never get to see myself perform live,” or Miley Cyrus literally beating her self-worth over our heads in an outfit that can only be described as, well, non-existent, we fail to see talent at all.

In my experience, insecurities are loud, and confidence is quiet. But in a society that much of the time worships loud-mouthed and reckless behavior, how do you get ahead without screaming, “pick me, pick me?”

Where does this leave us currently? We have elected a reality TV star as our Commander-in-Chief, the best our entire nation has to offer. He is a man who is literally his own icon encapsulated in the Trump brand, and therein lies his success.

Donald Trump was so effective during his election because he embodied the same egotistical, drama-ridden idiocracy that people of this country are fed every day. Never have our political debates so closely resembled the painful antics of a high school melodrama turned cartoon. This surreal comic continued and led to one of the biggest political upsets in history, as so many of us wanted to believe that we live in a country with greater awareness.

I hold no ill will against ignorance, for the fault is in our society’s teachings. The ignorance we see is necessarily influenced by the events and situations that we were brought up in. When we have things like “Honey Boo Boo” and “Dating Naked” being paid to air on our networks, I’m not surprised at the lack of awareness we have promoted in this country.

Herein lies both the beautiful and ugly roots of our first amendment. Some would say that what I’m speaking of is censorship, that freedom of speech is why America is great. I would have to agree with this claim, and I’m okay with some shallow entertainment being presented on our networks as much as anyone else. But most reality TV today has taken on a disgusting gray area all its own.

We are all adults, and as much as it scares me to see what some folks might find joy in, I am an advocate for diversity and free thinking. I think we all have a lot to learn from each other, especially when we have different tastes. But I cannot advocate sheer stupidity being fed to our youth who soak in this capitalist, ego-driven madness that breeds nothing but a society that idolizes power, money and plastic, over community, talent and the environment.

Yet there is still hope. Always. Hope is the life ordinance of humanity. We would never have seen the bright plateaus of our time here in the 21st century without our power to believe. I wouldn’t write if I felt doom. I wouldn’t reach out if I didn’t believe in more.

I see the beauty of this nation in cities and towns and families. The beauty is that we all have beautiful and unique ways to contribute to our communities, our planet, and our existence as humans.

So, to return to that revolution I mentioned at the very beginning, it is quite simply this: choice.

We have a choice to be more than what we are surrounded by. We have a choice to help perpetuate beauty and self worth and awareness, humbleness and kindness. We have a choice in how we invest our time, our money, our votes.

We can choose to support companies and products that empower the people, rather than acting as blind consumers. We can be empowered to support the people we love and the communities we live in, not the phantom monopoly kings and queens of big business.

I think human beings naturally want to help one another. We want to live by each other’s happy moments, not by one another’s miseries. All it takes is the recognition of this balance and an awareness of where we hope to find ourselves as a species on this divine scale.

So in this turbulent time, love the resistance. This may sound like an oxymoron after all I have said, but I’m truly grateful Trump is our president. Not because I endorse him on any level, but because it inspired me to write this to you. We can take his momentum and make it our own.

We have to push in order to gain. Just as we work out and eat well to make our bodies grow healthy and strong, so to can we strengthen our society by being mindful of how we choose to exercise our rights and nurture our communities. We all have felt and seen struggle, yet what we choose to feed our minds and our hearts is, and always will be, our choice. These decisions determine our culture, so we cannot underestimate our unique position as a pivotal piece in the whole.

Taking a look at any thriving environment reveals endless relationships between things both big and small. Take away one of these, even the smallest organism, and the chain will break—the life cycle will suffer.

Personal choices determine who you will become as an individual. Our collective choices determine who we will become as a society. Who we become is everything.

 

References:

[1] Eliassen, M. “Personality.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Retrieved January 2017 from: http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/personality/

[2] Chernow, R. (2010). “Washington: A Life.”  Penguin Books, New York.

this is so annoying omg

Author: Rainer Jundt

Image: Flickr/Zennie Abraham

Editor: Callie Rushton

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