Mean is What We Want

Peacebang has posted an interesting observation about blogger Perez Hilton having “jumped the shark.” I understand where she’s coming from, but I think she’s a little off base.

A week or so ago, he posted a photo of a fat teenaged girl walking on a donkey farm in Australia. Her outfit, very reminiscent of the old Cindy Lauper get-ups, is endearingly awful. Still, by inviting the ridicule of hundreds of thousands upon this ordinary kid, he has truly announced the end of his brief reign as Top Gossip Bitch.

Witness, too, his lack of discretion in posting photo-shopped images of Star Jones’ new book cover:

[Ed. note: I will not link to that post.]

I predict he’ll be a non-entity in a year or so. I hope he’s keeping some other job skills up to date.

Maybe. Or, given more time, maybe he’ll be president.

I came to the conclusion a while back that meanness sells. Mean is what people want; a great many of them anyway. It was a few years ago, during the first season of Survivor. I never watched the show, because it didn’t appeal to me. Not much of the “reality” genre does. I was visiting friends who were fans of the show, and it was the night of the season finale. So I watched, mostly out of curiosity about what the big deal was. By the end, I vowed never to watch it again, because it seemed like the whole thing was set up to bring out the worst in people, and encourage them to behave badly towards one another.

Then I realized that is what makes the show so popular, because that’s what lots of people want to see. I had only to witness my friends reaction to one of the Survivor contestant’s tirade delivered to the two finalists; a standing ovation. And, of course, the most conniving of the islanders won. (That he was gay, and a nudist is beside the point here.) Now we have more of the same in The Apprentice (which has further popularized the phrase “You’re fired!”), only the jungle has moved from the tropic to the boardroom.

There are other examples, such as The Weakest Link (“You are the weakest link!”), or American Idol’s Simon Cowell, whose acid tongue can reduce young contestants to teas (and we love him for it) that help underscore the point that there’s a huge market for meanness in America. (The big disappointment with Martha Stewart’s Apprentice franchise is that she wasn’t mean enough, and seemed to be keeping her legendary streak in check.) We like seeing people humiliated, and we root for the people who dish it out. They are our heroes, our celebrities, and our leaders.

It doesn’t take an incredible degree of perception, and never has, to see that not so far beneath the surface of George W. Bush’s swaggering cowboy veneer was a pretty significant mean streak. It was plain enough even before it became routine to use the words “America” and “torture” in the same sentence, with very few words between the, and a significant number of Americans voted for him, and did it again four years later when it was even more evident. Only now has it begun to be a bit much for some his former backers to swallow. Only just now.

The truth is, we like bullies. And if that’s putting it a bit to strongly, then at least we don’t mind them much, as long as they’re our bullies, and as long as they’re picking on someone else.

I won’t be reading Perez Hilton’s blog on a regular basis, because I share Peacebang’s distaste for what he dishes out and how. But, if the blog-reading audience follows the same trends as the television-viewing audience and the American electorate, I have a feeling that Hilton won’t miss us at all. People will read his blog and clamour for more and he — along with others like him — will continue to thrive in their chosen field.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
This entry was posted in Bush, Culture, Television. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Mean is What We Want

  1. Nio says:

    I think most TV shows are based on characters being mean to one another.  And that’s why I hate to watch it. 

  2. John says:

    Back in 1980, after the "malaise" of the Carter years, I became a right wing fanatic largely because I saw Reagan as the kick ass man we needed to get rid of all those "welfare queens" that were bleeding me dry.

    I did not realize at the time just how poisonous that attitude was.

  3. E.C. says:

    I read something some time ago about the political apathy of average Americans and the corelation with reality TV.  (Which is the chicken, which is the egg?  Beats me.)  People don’t seem to mind political corruption because (with shows like "Survivor" and "The Apprentice") they see and apparently approve of people screwing other people to get ahead.  It, sadly, has become the American way.

  4. Tim Who? says:

    It breaks my heart to see the country turn the direction it has, things aren’t getting better they’re getting worse. And I worry just how bad it will get before the people wake up, wise up, and start doing something about it. We have the power, but will use it before it goes away, or gets taken away.

  5. Julia says:

    I have never understood the popularity of reality shows. 
    I get embarrassed for the people on them.

Comments are closed.