There’s a certain set of people who choose not to acknowledge Reality TV. Names like Brandi Glanville have no effect on them. Once upon a very recent time, I had a long list of opinions about this Twitter happy, heavy drinking, scorned single mother, featured on Bravo’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I thought about her hair extensions. Her Botox and fillers enthralled me.
I followed her unaired antics on celebrity gossip sites. And she is only one of the many women, and a few men, whose lives I’ve leered at. If there was a bedazzled vagina, a blood facial, or a leaked nude photo, I wanted to know about it. I was up on the entire “Real Housewives” franchise, even the D.C. version that lasted only one season. (One cast member famously crashed a White House dinner and made the news after the confounding security breech.)
I watched every episode of a show, I watched reruns, binge watched marathons for whole weekends at a time, and I was never satisfied. It is akin to one’s experience when eating nothing but say, candy all day. You are in a constant state of flux, sugar crashing and re-upping. You’re always hungry and sort of sick to the stomach, but unrelenting in your pursuit of a tiny, but somehow rewarding, high. Most all of us have had those days. We consume garbage when we are depressed, stressed, happy, or even just bored. We have myriad reasons for reaching for the Snickers, buying that bag of Doritos, or ordering a cheap pizza and eating all of it even though it sucks.
I loved my junk TV, and in talking about it, I sort of miss it. On a dreary day, it’s hard not to peruse the iTunes store for the latest season of Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules, a Real Housewives spin off starring the ultimate Grande dame, Lisa Vanderpump and her motley staff at the Los Angeles hotspot SUR. How can you live in America and not want to tune into that shit show? There are twenty somethings, all aspiring actors, singers, or models, having the most outrageous sexual run ins, getting incredibly drunk at all hours of the day, and being downright cruel to one another. How else would I know what life is like in oh-so-glamorous tinsel town? How else would I know that Hermes handbags are, like, a thing? I never would have learned that tacky high heels with red soles are deeply important. I would never have met Alexander McQueen’s muse on Ladies of London. Without Reality TV, what would I know about the greater world?
After just seven months, I know a lot. I know things about far off lands like New Guinea and the Galapagos Islands. I know how the Afghan rebels fight their battles and how the Vietcong managed to decimate us during the Vietnam War. I know more about our misperceptions of Islam, our misunderstandings about faith and violence. I’m up on the public massacres that have taken places in America for so long. I think about gun control and wonder about all the things we can do to make the world a better place.
I came out of a TV coma and found the world the same as I remembered, heartbreaking and beautiful. I am moved by stories of difficult adoptions from places like Romania. Articles about feminism and race affect me. I care that atrocities occur every day worldwide. I care about the history, the fabric, the meaning of it all.
My former self would have thought all that sounded awful, but I came to understand that my real self and my TV viewing self are diabolically opposed. It’s a complete split in, not jut personality, but self. I don’t like to judge people. I don’t like comparing myself to others. I don’t enjoy watching people inflict pain and suffering on those around them. I don’t like home wreckers, liars, or money mongers. I don’t believe for a second, that a designer hand bag or dress means a damn thing, that anything good comes from a one night stand or a slap to the face, or that yelling and screaming can solve anything.
I was not inspired by Reality TV to engage in arguments or casual sex but I did wonder if maybe we’re all a little too uptight about alcohol consumption and bad behavior. I have, at times, considered the possibility that the Jersey Shore’s beloved Snooki is a genius. Her reinvention of the archetypal drunken buffoon puts her up there with Lucille Ball. Some in a broad cast of Reality TV characters do win over a less cynical part of a person.
It’s not just that I broke a bad habit. I found that a happier person existed beyond the glow of the boob tube. I won’t take away from the other causes of my improved state of being. I survived my first year of marriage, found a job I really love, quit smoking, and moved into a nicer home. Still, I think maybe I wouldn’t have noticed all those awesome things if I were still glued to the TV. I wouldn’t be present in my life like I am now. I would still be unaware, as I sucked the hours out of my life, that I have so much to give.
I got rid of cable and bid farewell to the Real Housewives and the Kardashians. So too went the Jersey juiceheads and guidettes, and the nostalgic challenges on MTV that featured alums from my cherished years with The Real World. I had to let go of matchmakers and chefs, designers, make up artists, tattoo artists, and hair stylists.
In letting go I found real people of modest means living meaningful lives beyond any spotlight or stage, beyond any self aggrandizing platform. I found a world that looks nothing like Beverly Hills or Laguna Beach. As pretty as the palm trees seem, the leaves turning in North Carolina in the fall mean more to me.
And in my reality no one is throwing wine in anyone’s face or flipping tables or putting a prosthetic leg on a table to make some point about not being a liar. No longer is my running thought-Are people really like this? When I look around at my life I can safely say no, people are not really like that. They are far better.