Jonah Goldberg in today’s National Review Online
America Through the Reality Lens
Culturally, this has been the decade of the reality show. And what do we have to show for it? Not much more than the contestants themselves.
Survey the wreckage. Richard Hatch, the first Survivor champion, was just released from prison (he didn’t pay taxes on his winnings). The marriage of the Octoparents, Jon and Kate, is a shambles. Richard and Mayumi Heene were so desperate to land a reality series, they concocted an enormous hoax, convincing the country their child had been carried away in a balloon. Michaele and Tareq Salahi tried to claw their way onto the sure-to-be-hideous series Real Housewives of D.C. by brazening their way into a state dinner. And alleged wife-killer Ryan Jenkins, a contestant on two VH1 shows, is a stark reminder that fame is not a reflection of good character.
Which brings us to Jersey Shore… In a teaser for this week’s episode, one of the girls is punched in the face at a bar. But, after “consulting with experts on the issue of violence,” MTV announced it wouldn’t show the actual assault. While I can’t fault the decision, it is kind of funny. The producers see nothing wrong with glorifying drunken idiocy and moral buffoonery in every episode, but they “responsibly” draw the line at physical violence because MTV is loath to promote reckless behavior…
British historian Arnold Toynbee argued that civilizations thrive when the lower classes aspire to be like the upper classes, and they decay when the upper classes try to be like the lower classes. Looked at through this prism, it’s hard not to see America in a prolonged period of decay…
Self-discipline was once a virtue; now self-expression is king.
Reality-show culture has thrived in that moral vacuum, accelerating the decay and helping to create a society in which celebrity is the new nobility…
Whatever you think of what Toynbee and Murray would call the “proletarianization of the elites,” one point is beyond dispute: The rich can afford moral lassitude more than the poor can. Hilton, heir to a hotel fortune, has life as simple as she wants it to be. Tiger Woods is surely a cad, but as a pure matter of economics, he can afford to be one.
The question is: Can the rest of us afford to live in a society constantly auditioning to make an ass of itself on TV?