If you have never watched or experienced the genre of TV called “reality TV,” you are far better off. Calling this genre “reality TV” is a brilliant marketing ploy, as there is little connection to any semblance of reality. Every segment of these shows is carefully crafted to engage the viewers, and as such they are largely scripted. They pretend to show us the day-to-day reality of someone’s life. What they really show is a person or group who is so desperate for a moment of fame that they are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that fame, no matter how far from truth their story is, how vulgar their actions are or how much they are willing to hurt those who are close to them in order to attract viewers.
Herein lies the key to the success of reality TV. The method used to attract viewers is to grasp at the most base and crude element of our personalities, drawing upon a voyeuristic urge to enjoy the titillating drama and nasty conflict of other people’s lives in order to encourage us to keep watching.
TV producers recognize that a successful reality show must be filled with conflict and drama to keep viewers engaged. They often include the worst of human behavior in these shows, such as purposeful humiliation of others, violence, drunkenness, or sexual encounters that cross all boundaries. And always a level of narcissism from the main character that is so shocking that we can’t imagine what boundary may be crossed next as we are drawn to continue watching. The shock value of these shows is partly why people watch in the first place. The more the producers push this envelope the more popular this show may become.
These shows represent the worst of contemporary culture. They are vulgar, ostentatious, crass and offensive. They represent the polar opposite of the values of my community, where religion serves as a mechanism used to elevate us in ways that refine us, make us better people and care more about those around us. We, of course, are humans, and will fail at times, both individually and as a community, but the values that we strive for impel us to live a noble, principled and upstanding life.
One of the latest iterations of “reality TV” has garnered much attention in our community because it portrays a woman who left Orthodoxy. Members of our community are shocked, horrified and offended at this show’s portrayal of Orthodoxy, which they find to be shallow and unfair as well as incredibly dishonest. A social media movement #myorthodoxlife, which paints our faith in a very different light, has begun in response to this show.
This is much ado about nothing.
We should simply see this TV show for what it is: a trashy TV show designed to elevate an individual’s career. It features a woman who aspires to success by trying, somewhat poorly, I may add, to follow in the footsteps of the Kardashians or the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty. Need we say more?
The failing of our community, in my mind, is that we have brought aspects of the world of “reality TV” into our midst and are far too familiar with it. By all means, we should engage with the world around us but we must be far more selective of our cultural choices. The fact that there are tinges of antisemitism in Shakespeare’s work should bother us. We should be concerned that there is a handful of individuals who hate Jews and have reached the halls of Congress. We should be involved in important philosophical debates about government and the ideal ways to make our country a better place. We should be inviting unaffiliated Jews into our homes and having conversations so that they can make educated decisions about the nature of our lifestyles. But “reality TV’? Let’s not waste our time. Why be offended by this rubbish? Let us ignore it and move on. We can do far better.
Rabbi Daniel Alter is head of school at The Moriah School.