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Cultural capital explained

March 20, 2010


Why do people think that reality tv is a steaming pile of crap, when people like me think it is unrecognized genius? Previously the argument would have gone that I was uneducated, I simply didn’t know any better than to like what is presented to me through mass media for mass consumption. But I’m not uneducated. I have a college degree, and almost a graduate degree. I listen to classical music, go to the ballet yet still think Teen Mom is the bees knees. What is that about?

My theory from back in the day, that I still think holds true, is about cultural capital. Pierre Bordieu, a French sociologist, came up with the concept of different kinds of capital existing that will further you in life. So with cultural capital, listening to opera or classical music is indicative of a higher level of education, therefore you will be more likely to be successful. People in the lower classes simply lack this kind of capital, so they do not understand this same media. This is why they are out listening to Lil Wayne instead of Bach. For further explanation consult the video below:

Yes, take you back to freshman sociology at all? Don’t worry, I have a point. Bordieu only looked at this in terms of the lower classes not being able to understand the upper classes. But I think it is also the other way around. The upper classes are essentially, for lack of a better word, snobs. They think reality television is beneath them because they simply don’t have the capacity to understand it. Studies have already shown the social information that is included in reality television, and also other programs such as soap operas, to pass on to the general public. It is true that perhaps upper-class people are already aware of such things so can learn life lessons from Puccini. But I think the reality is the elite few, or people who wish to be seen as the elite few, such as journalists (who of course, are often above us all), do not deign to understand the popular taste. If it is popular, it must be bad. Therefore they don’t look into the hidden value that the genre provides. After all, Survivor made the genre mainstream, and is still on the air. Clearly it is appealing to people somehow. It has kept its relevance. Because lets face it, something is only popular so long as it is relevant. So why let the elite few dictate what is valid and what is not?

Shakespeare taught us life lessons, and I maintain that MTV does too. So why should it matter which group pays attention to which, and just acknowledge that all these cultural forms are valid, just interpreted in different ways.


What Time says about Reality TV

March 18, 2010

A few days ago, I published the link for the Time magazine article that was written in February. It was published to herald the 10th anniversary of reality television hitting the mainstream, with the advent of Survivor. 

The article (for those who don’t know), described the evolution of reality TV, but also criticized it, and lauded it when appropriate. Many of the arguments the writer makes are not new within the genre: fame for fames sake and the breakdown of privacy. But the positives are something I want to focus on. After all “the best reality shows can be much more engrossing, diverse and and complex than your average TV cop show”. This article embraces the American qualities that reality shows present. But this is because what is “true of countries is true of television”. Jwoww of Jersey Shore fame is likened to Jay Gatsby: able to reinvent yourself no matter where you came from. After all, isn’t this the American way.

This article is one that actually reflects partially how I think the genre really is, but still falls short. Despite lauding the slice of life that reality tv brings to us, shown in Wife Swap, Undercover Boss, 19 Kids and Counting and lauding the programming of MTV (which naturally won me over immediately), the article still ends on a negative note. That we are prone to promoting people who don’t deserve it. This is probably true (and we shall save my thoughts on E!’s new venture Pretty Wild for another time), but it doesn’t eliminate the good, the “democratic quality, the aspirational quality”. The good always has to be sold with the bad, for even when we admit reality TV may just be ok, it has to be with a disclaimer– but it most likely isn’t.

If Time magazine…

March 16, 2010

can recognize the validity of the genre, then you know it’s gotta be good! We’ve almost made it people!

Here is their article on the evolution of reality tv: 

Don’t judge lest ye be judged

March 15, 2010

Previously I wrote about the Fox Reality Network, and its plethora of… well, interesting viewing. Looking back, I have come to the conclusion that I have done exactly what I set out not to do. That is to denigrate reality television. I am setting out to prove its virtue, and free us from shame! By relegating some tv as “good” and some as still “shameful”, I am no better than people who watch nothing but PBS (although on a side note, the reality tv show Faces of America was interesting at times. Although on PBS its not reality, it’s a “genealogy project”. But that is another post for another time). 

So it is up to me to recap, set things straight and find the virtue, or societal commentary– intended or otherwise– in the shows Fox had on offer.

My Bare Lady: This was the show that allowed porn stars to be transformed and act on London’s West End, or in season 2, be legitimate business women. This show seemingly accepts this professional sexualized woman. Yet the tone of this show still continues to marginalize and look down upon what it is they actually do. The perception within society of late is that the sex industry is beginning to cross into the mainsteam. Pornography is considered acceptable, people talk freely about aspects of their sexual life, Playboy has gone from being hidden under a mattress by men to being a brand that women embrace. Yet this show implies that there is something wrong with these women for leading the lives they do. They need to be fixed, ergo the theater and the business schooling. No matter how many best sellers Jenna Jameson may write, this is still a profession that we are not completely comfortable with.

Smile… You’re Under Arrest: Ah, the cross between Cops and Punk’d. How I wish I’d gotten a chance to watch this at the time. The show works, firstly, by appealing to our sense of justice. We don’t like to see people get away with bad actions. Watching Law and Order, don’t you hate it when the jury lets the murdered go? Or is that just me? We all have a desire to see people get their comeuppance. If we didn’t jails would probably be less crowded, and people wouldn’t campaign to keep the death penalty. Another reason this show appeals, is for the simple reason of Darwinism. We can’t help but be intrigued by watching stupid people and often, feeling superior.. My father is obsessed with the Darwin Awards that are created every year. I’m pretty sure if this show was shown in Australia, he would have watched it too. 

Solitary: this one is short and sweet. From Aristotle, to Freud, to Jung to Plato, we are always fascinated by the way the human mind works. Particularly when it is pushed to breaking point. This situation may not be reflective of reality, but the reactions shown are. For that glimpse into our hidden nature, we will always continue to watch shows like this.

Seducing Cindy: I’ve already written on the quest for love, and how we translate this into our reality show viewing. This is part of this show, but also reflects one other aspect. Our obsession with beauty and looks. Otherwise why would the fact that this woman was the most downloaded person in the 90s make any difference? Do you think if she was a descendant of Sarah Plain and Tall that she would have men lining up to give her a kidney? The nice, but not so hunky, man who was a contestant was sent home due to a “lack of connection”– read, lack of killer abs. Sometimes its about love, sometimes its about looks. Who can say that life isn’t like that?

More to Love

March 12, 2010

I mentioned this show briefly when discussing reality dating shows, but such was its brilliance that I thought it deserved some attention all of its own. More to Love was on Fox over the summer. This was another one of those that I didn’t start to watch. The boyfriend, who normally doesn’t watch any TV at all (he’s one of those people), came home to tell me he’d watched part of the most amazing show ever at work, and he had to show me.

This show is kind of like a watching a train wreck. You know it isn’t right, but you cannot look away. This is the product of the same producer from the Bachelor. The concept is basically, Bachelor: Plus Size edition. A larger (but still attractive) man weighing 330lbs, courts 20 larger ladies in the hope of finding his love. My first issue with this is not that the man was larger, but that he was 26. At 26 he says he has seen it all and is ready to settle down and have children, but needs the help of reality TV to do it. Heaven help the rest of us poor souls in our 20s, wandering around with nary a camera in sight.

The show is meant to promote the idea of plus size women as being beautiful, and worthy of love. And we all know that they are. The problem with this show is that it patronizes the issue. If plus-size women are worthy of love, then why are they not on the regular season of the Bachelor? Why is there no teddy bear of a bachelor himself wooing the ladies? The Bachelor has also copped criticism for only having white contestants feature on their shows, and when I see Black Love feature on TV, I will be concerned as well. 

The women’s weight is displayed on the screen like a scorecard. They have to participate in activities “they normally never would” such as wearing a swimsuit, or belly dancing. They are shown eating. All the time. Not eating excessively, or unhealthily, but the camera zooms in on them picking up the toaster waffle. Whether its a “this is refreshing, a woman eating” or, “this is why you’re fat”, I’m not entirely sure, but I know which one my money is on. These women cry into the camera about how they cannot find love, they are too overweight, and this is their one chance. Watching some of the contestants, I had a genuine fear they may go Fatal Attraction on Luke, the (lucky?) man in question.

This show tries to make us accepting of all people, by placing them as other and reinforcing stereotypes. Luke does find love, with Tali, a gorgeous Israeli plus-size model. All the girls who were genuinely larger, as opposed to being curvy, were eliminated fairly rapidly. Some he kept on the show to help their self-esteem. This show wasn’t for large women, it was for broken down women. It cannot be true that big people don’t find love, or the population of America could be in serious decline. Most of the contestants on the Biggest Loser are married. Those who aren’t seem to go home attached to another contestant. The problem isn’t with society not accepting these girls, it is with these girls not accepting themselves. And by placing them in the company of other large people, and telling them this is where they need to stay, in their own little segment of society, is not going to further the cause. 

I believe reality tv can pass things on to society. But the harder it tries, the less it succeeds. Apparently people seem to agree, as large people have to settle for finding their own love matches this summer– More to Love has been cancelled. For those in desperate need, I can only recommend joining the Biggest Loser, and killing two birds with one stone.

A Brilliant Idea, or Too Much of A (Good) Thing?

March 7, 2010

I was thinking the other day, wouldn’t it be fantastic if there was a television channel dedicated entirely to reality TV? Instead of waiting around for the small windows of opportune viewing, it would be a way to celebrate the genre, a 24/7 ode to the excellence of a style and its virtues. 

Imagine my amazement to discover that such a thing already exists. How did I not know of this? I upgraded my cable package if necessary, just for a taste of this potential brilliance. Fox Reality Channel started in 2005, and features not only new original shows, but repeats of the classics: The Mole, The Amazing Race, American Idol, Beauty and the Geek. Apparently I was not the only one who wasn’t aware of this channel’s existence, because at the end of March the channel will be no more. Farewell reality tv, hello National Geographic Wild. As a celebration of what it (presumably) gave to the world, this student of reality salutes Fox Reality’s contributions to viewing pleasure:

My Bare Lady: a show that follows adult film stars as they take acting lessons and perform alongside actors in London’s West End. The success of this show lead to My Bare Lady 2, where the ladies were trained in business skills, sort of akin to a naughty Apprentice. 

Smile… You’re Under Arrest: described as a cross between Cops and Punk’d, individuals with outstanding warrants are lured into policy custody using elaborate fake scenarios.

Solitary: where contestants are kept in solitary confinement, and have no contact with anybody except an artificial intelligence system named Val. It’s meant to test the physical and mental endurance of the competitors.

Seducing Cindy: the newest (and last) addition to the Fox Reality lineup, it features the “most downloaded women of the 90s” Cindy Margolis, and her attempt at finding love. This perhaps wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, but one of the latest tasks involved testing the competitors to see if any of them would be willing to donate their kidney to Cindy, under the impression that she had been struck ill and needed a transplant.

On second thought, maybe its a good thing this channel is going under. I’m trying to defend reality tv here, and I need all the help I can get…

Let’s Talk About Love

March 4, 2010

The thing is, everybody wants to fall in love. As we’re told often enough, people like the idea of love. This is why people buy movie tickets, read novels, listen to music, and thousands of teens are obsessed with a hundred year old vampire. People want to be in love like that. Enter the reality dating show, a way of seemingly providing us with this elusive form of love, to provide the Edward to our Bella (or for the more discerning of us the Darcy to our Jane, Bogey to our Bacall, Mars to our Venus etc). 

I’ve never watched the Bachelor, or its sister the Bachelorette. I can’t take too much pride in this, because I like my love shows to be a little kookier. Joe Millionaire, watched it. Average Joe, done. The Age of Love, fantastic. More to Love, a masterpiece. But these all revolve around the fantasy of providing us with true love. Considering the uproar over the latest Bachelor Jake’s decision to pick Vienna, the sell is still working. This is even in the face of the previous Bachelor Jason, and his infamous flip flop.

Of course these shows at face value aren’t real. An eligible bachelor won’t have a bevy of beautiful women who let him date them all at the same time, and then after 2 months proposes to one. Not all of the series ended in a proposal, and none of the couples from the end of the series are still together, save Charlie O’Connell and Sarah Brice, who broke up then reunited. Love also brought Jason and Molly together last season, but not before he proposed to somebody else in the final show, then changing his mind and proposing to Molly once the show wrapped. The Bachelorette has a slightly higher success rate, going strong with one happy marriage in Trista and Ryan, and the latest Bachelorette, Jillian, and her pick yet to break up. None of the other love shows have fared much better, all breaking up several months after the show ended. Because maybe this kind of love isn’t real, so once the station funded horse back rides, picnics and scripted sweet nothings under soft studio lighting end, there isn’t really anything to fall back on. This is reality tv, but in the sense that it’s the reality we want, not the reality that exists.

Ironically, the best place for people to make a lasting match? Survivor has produced strong couples, the Biggest Loser is a guaranteed lovefest, with two couples (and a proposal) from the last season alone. So this is the reality. Love isn’t constructed, but sneaks up on you, whether stranded on a deserted island, or stuck in fat camp.