The Regime Of ‘Reality’

rsnbrshwThere are some academic conservative authors on politics and society who feel that discussions of the popular culture are beneath the dignity of their calling. But if their calling is to properly diagnose the condition of the society in which they live, and to identify all of the various factors that contribute to that condition, then an avoidance of this arena can only come at the expense of neglecting their duty. The popular culture is simultaneously a product and a producer of human society; it creates us as we create it. Logically, those most subject to its creative power will be those not yet fully formed in mind and character i.e. the young. By contrast, the engineers of this culture are the adults of the society. Thus the process by which the adults of a society engineer that culture is the same process by which they, at least in part, act to shape the moral and intellectual character of the young.

When the comedian Roseanne Bar was asked in the early 1990′s what the inspiration had been for her popular television comedy series she said it was the fact that while she was growing up, she didn’t see on the classic American family sitcoms “realistic families”; ones that were a reflection of her own life. What she wanted, she said, was to see people like herself. Her criticism was not a new one. For Liberal progressive commentators, the classic American family sitcom had long been a target for ridicule for its idealism and lack of “reality” (with the exception of the Cosby Show which they were always somewhat hesitant to criticize due to sensitivities around race). In actuality, these sitcoms were not at all unrealistic, they were merely based upon another understanding of “reality”; one in which reality is not static but fluid.

What Bar and the Progressive writers that we have mentioned are essentially arguing is that the purpose of the popular culture is to provide self affirmation. This is very different from its traditional purpose. Its traditional purpose is to encourage aspiration. The popular culture of storytelling did not begin in the electronic media age, it is in fact thousands of years old. The young within the ancient world were entertained and morally educated by tales of the great mythic heroes of the epic poems, which were communicated to them orally by their elders. Those poems often set high standards of character and courage that did not reflect what men were, but what they strove to become. As they allow themselves to be inspired by those ideals and begin to emulate them they begin more and more to resemble them.

The idea that it is most wise for men and women to morally and intellectually nourish themselves with what they wish to become is one that had been taken for granted until the arrival of the present era. Today the purpose of all things has become self affirmation. The goal of life is to feel better about oneself rather than to objectively better oneself. The presentation of high ideals toward which one may strive is condemning and disconcerting; what we desire to see portrayed is ourselves as we are. Theatrical productions imitating that reality could only go so far until eventually they had to give way to the purest expression of this outlook: Reality Television.

Reality television of course neither challenges nor inspires its audience. It takes them into a world in which character aspiration is not a factor, only desire. Ultimately it does more than merely immerse its audience in who they are at present; it naturally drifts toward a standard even lower than this. That is because in truth, reality is fluid and not static. We are continually “becoming”, we cannot remain still. Reality does not consist of “what you are” but of what you are continually becoming. Everything in nature that does not develop degrades; and a person that has not made a conscious commitment to develop deteriorates by default. If what we model for ourselves and for our children does not foster improvement it fosters the opposite.

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