Currently viewing the tag: "Reality TV"

I’ve been transfixed by a particular reality television show on Netflix. I’m not typically a reality TV kind of guy, save for a few of the more hands-on creative shows. And the ones with drag queens, of course.

This show documents the Olympic-like achievements of super-couponers, who, if you don’t know, are people who stockpile mass amounts of food through the meticulous, methodical use of coupons. These stockpiles are worth thousands of dollars, but the couponers accumulate them for next to nothing.

I watched six episodes in my first sitting. My train of thought looked something like this:

Wow — are all couponers southern?

And Christian?

How is there this parallel between Christianity and stockpiling food? Is that biblical?

They are really going to extreme lengths to stockpile that Mountain Dew.

Everyone looks so unhealthy. Sure, you can fill six refrigerators with frozen food, but what is in that frozen food? Is that really something that supports your body’s health?

Do they ever think about where there food comes from, I wonder. Is that a privileged way of thinking?

They’re broke. They’re feeding families of eight on less than $100 per month. I shouldn’t judge.

But how do you just have eight kids? My god, straight people have a lot of sex.

All of these products in the stockpile are the lowest grade available. The detergent is probably the worst kind that could go into the water supply, the soaps are made with petrochemicals, the boxed foods are packed with preservatives — they’d have to be, if they’re going to sit on those shelves forever, and the plastic — the plastic — there is so much plastic.

Wow, they are really getting a savings, though. She’s keeping her family alive. There’s something to be said for that.

In some earlier time, these people would have been farmers. This lady with the two binders of coupons, who spends 30-60 hour per week riffling through the newspaper inserts and online forums would have, in some pre-agribusiness world, been concerned with the soil. She would have had a seed stockpile. She would have canned. Her kids, who sit next to her at the dining room table and help cut coupons, would have been in the field picking vegetables. And the food they ate, it would have been real food. It would have been food of the earth, more than food of the lab.

But those savings…  look at those savings…

The show leaves me conflicted. I do get a little rush when I see the woman score $1,000 worth of food for a penny. It’s like a consumer triathlon. She’s a champion.

But I watch them cart away the bottom of the barrel (in terms of quality) food, and I feel bad for them. I feel like their bodies are being robbed of nutrition, and that their success in frugality merely reinforces the system which pumps toxic chemicals, preservatives and plastics into their bodies.

I sit on my couch, and I make observations. I judge them, I root for them, I analyze them, and ultimately, I dehumanize them. It’s what reality TV is made to do. I watch them shop, and I think about how I shop. I look at their choices, judge them a little, and then think about how I make my choices.

I hold court in my living room.

The medium allows me to dehumanize them, to turn them into an idea, a concept, a symbol of what is wrong about the American food industry. Our social media and blogging networks make possible a similar behavior, and I feel like there’s a parallel here with the conversation that’s been going on around Star Foster’s decision to back away from Paganism.

Photo by Andrew Bowden

Photo by Andrew Bowden

Star has been a blogger for a while, and bloggers share a lot about themselves. Some of Star’s readers have sat back and rooted for Star and others have been her chorus of naysayers. But all of us who took the opportunity to use Star’s public, but personal, choice to hold court from our couches — myself included — are participating in a kind of reality TV of our own.

We’re making each other into symbols, into characters in a grocery store, into something to champion or something to criticize. These symbols we become represent our fears about our collective future, our hopes for something better, our doubts and suspicions and reservations about one another. This act of symbol-making, easy as it is to fall into, might be substituted with something more productive.

What if, for example, as a community, we spent the same amount of time and energy that we used to discuss Star’s choice to unpack the definition of the “pagan sensibility” that Jonathan Korman wrote about in his December 30th post, which he defines as:

The pagan sensibility sees the divine in the material world … and so regards the human as sacred.

The pagan sensibility apprehends the Cosmos as composed of a multiplicity of different interconnected forces … and honors all of those forces.

Would it be, I wonder, more beneficial for us to have a thriving, active dialogue about what “Pagan” might include, rather than what — or who — is not a part of it?

[A public note to Star: If my sharing of your post led to an unwanted onslaught of attention and judgement, I apologize. As I wrote in the comments of your post, I do wish you the best on this journey — however that journey is defined by you.]

It is a myth that Aleister Crowley received the inspiration of the entity, Aiwass, and that from their Cairo channeling sessions in the year 1904 came the fundamental holy text of the Thelemic religion.

And, it is true.

It is a myth that the Irish Goddess, my patron, Brighid, inspired the hearts of all her faithful poets, and continues to do so to this very day.

And, it is true.

It is a myth that the fairies–a magical, invisible race of beings who still lend aid to openhearted seekers–helped to craft this post.

And, it is true.

Yes, but…

Throw “factual” to the wind for a moment. Suspend your need for scientific accuracy. That isn’t the discussion I’m opening up here. Talk of the literal existence of Gods, or the literal nature of spirits is not what this post is about. Literalism can be such a drag. I’m bored of everything having to be accurate in order to be true.

This post is about myth, specifically the role that myth-making has in the modern world. How do we consume myths? Who’s selling them to us, and why are they valuable? How are we using myth, or misusing it? And, how is it being used against us to keep us from creating new myths of our own?

We Were The Music Makers

Last night I had the terrible misfortune of watching a competition reality show. I was asked to participate in an online chat with an acquaintance of mine that would take place during the broadcast. I’m not a big TV watcher, in general, and I’ve never before seen a complete episode from the “hustle for fleeting fame” genre. But, I reluctantly agreed. What harm could it do me?

Let me tell you…

For the better part of 2 hours, I witnessed the most vile, embarrassing, ugly show of distaste I’d ever been privy to. And I’m not talking about the program. The episode was fine – boring and formulaic, mostly forgettable. No – the nastiness I witnessed was coming from everyone in the chat-room.

It. was. horrible.

Who dresses her?! Did you see how fat her legs were?… Uh, he should totally put his glasses back on… Time for that one to go home — she sounds like a chainsaw….

People were mean. Like, YouTube Comment Mean, but in real time.

I left the experience feeling utterly gross for having taken part. Could I please take a shower on the inside, I asked when I got home.

This morning, however, I came to understand the experience in a different light. The ugly typists were doing more than just showing humanities scuzzy underbelly, slinging insults through a computer screen. They were consuming mass-marketed, mass-produced myth, American style, and they were engaging with it in exactly the way it’s creators had intended them to.

We Were The Dreamers Of Dreams

Who are the modern myth-makers? The producers, writers, and the occasional savvy celebrity, herself, who create the shows, the ad campaigns, the centerfolds sold for our consumption. Myths are made by crafty marketers; tabloid bards. And we can’t get enough of it.

Our culture feasts on competition reality shows — and all entertainment media for that matter — because we have a myth deficiency in our spiritual diet.

It is an entertainment-industry created myth that the contestants of these reality TV competitions will go on to do brilliant things with their lives; that they will become celebrated, or that their innate gifts will one day become widely seen and fully appreciated. This myth is dangled in front of every singer, dancer, actor, comedian, or any other artist in the audience.

And this myth is neither accurate nor true.

The contestants may experience either a brief moment of celebrity worship, or widespread disdain. Either way, the victors and the losers will become the newest canvas for our individual and cultural projections of hope, desire, fear of success and fear of failure. Real as they may be in the flesh, they will be transformed into symbols; heroes, villains, deities.

This is the truth behind the myth.

Celebrities Make Lousy Gods And Are Rarely Heroes

We need symbols. They are important. When we hold up a figure from a myth in our imagination – when we examine it, celebrate it, critique it, seek to understand it’s relevance – we engage in a deeply human act. We re-enchant the ordinary world by fusing it with that of the mythological. This act of imaginative transformation makes for a rich, fulfilling, spiritual life.

The rub comes when the object of our attention is not a mythological deity, or a hero of old, or a created character of the imagination; but rather a flesh-and-blood person. Or, more accurately, a two dimensional version of one. This is where I think we make a mistake.

Turning an ordinary person into the stuff of myth – in real time, in front of us, behind the TV screen – requires us to ignore something essential about her; mainly, her humanity. Or, if we don’t ignore it, we participate in it’s distortion.

Be Your Own Myth-Maker

Consuming mass-marketed myth is not only a disservice to the human beings on the other side of the channel-changer; it also disempowers us from becoming our own myth-makers. The format subjugates our imagination and sets the standards for our desires and aspirations. It tells us what we want, who we should be, and then it politely reminds us that we are neither of those things. [Insert commercial here]

Honestly, I think we deserve better than that.

Our imagination – our own, personal myth-making machine – is in need of exercising. Its become atrophied from lack of use. I’ve said it before, and I believe it even more strongly now – your imagination is your greatest tool for living a magical life.

So I decline from participating in this cultural practice of myth-consumption; of celebrity worship followed by celebrity bashing. I’d rather worship an ancient Celtic Goddess, or an invisible magical creature, or the fire burning on my altar candle than to consume a manufactured myth, crafted to make me feel inferior; a myth that is simply untrue.

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