If you know me personally, it probably comes as no surprise to you that I found the results of the 2016 presidential election deeply disturbing.
I found myself soul searching in the weeks that followed. What truly disturbed me was not the difference in political ideology between Mr. Trump and myself. What disturbed me the most was that Mr. Trump could make fun of others unlike himself at every turn (i.e. women, Hispanics, blacks, immigrants, the disabled, the poor etc.) and he still got elected. He demonized and dehumanized these groups to standing ovations across the country and he became our president elect in November 2016.
Upon reflection, this signified a shift in our national moral consciousness to me.
You see, I grew up in the South. I grew up in the Bible belt. I have had the privilege of being exposed to many viewpoints outside of my own (which are admittedly more left than center). I learned from many wonderful public-school teachers, many of whom I am sure voted for Mr. Trump. These teachers taught classrooms full of little white, black, and Hispanic students how to read and write and educated us about the character traits (aka how to conduct ourselves as people of integrity). More than that, they taught us how to be kind to one another. They taught us to listen to each other. When did these skills become unimportant? I know there are people who voted for Mr. Trump that I worship with on Sunday mornings. I know these people volunteer their time with habitat for humanity and teach Sunday School classes. Where is the disconnect?
To me, the election of Mr. Trump overwhelmingly signaled that we are suffering from a national character deficit.
It would be too easy to say that all people who voted for Mr. Trump were morally bankrupt while I was not. That is a cop out because I know it’s not true. The more I reflected, the more I realized that I too was complicit with Mr. Trump’s rise to power, even though I did not vote for him.
The questions I kept circling back to were:
When did it become cool in this country to be mean and disrespectful to others?
When did it become acceptable to make fun of everyone you don’t like or who disagrees with you?
Namely, when did we start to idolize people who bully others?
And the answer came to me rather suddenly.
When we started watching “reality TV”.
I should know this better than anyone. From 2007 to 2016 I was the reality TV Queen. Good luck finding someone more passionate about reality TV over that 9-year period than I was. When I told my friends I was giving up my reality shows, and all TV shows, many of them exclaimed, ‘but you are the one who got me into reality TV!’.
That’s a ringing endorsement of my moral character right there. I was a reality TV evangelist.
I was surprised to hear them say that, but then again why would I be? I was obsessed. I’ve watched every season of 16 and pregnant. I’ve watched 10 years’ worth of Bachelor Nation. I’ve watched several seasons of Sister Wives. I’ve extensively watched my 600 lb Life, The Age of Love, Rock of Love, Big Brother, Sex Sent me to the ER, The Jersey Shore, The Biggest Looser, Survivor, The Apprentice, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Say Yes to the Dress, and Four Weddings (FYI this is keeping the list on the shorter side).
Why was I watching all those shows you might ask?
To feel better about myself.
Reality TV provided me with the ultimate self-esteem booster. There was always someone making worse decisions than me on ‘Reality’ TV. There was always someone less “successful” than I was, someone who had it “less together” than I did.
You see the thing is, I don’t like to make fun of people I know. It seems mean. I pride myself on being a kind person. I’m a nurse after all. But while watching people on a screen it seemed ok. There was a disconnect. I would justify it to myself in different ways.
‘They signed up to be on the show!’ ‘Surely they realize how dumb they sound.’
Regardless, I was dehumanizing the people I was watching on my shows, just as Mr. Trump did on the campaign trail.
I was acting as an anonymous bully. Because that’s what bullies do right? They make fun of others to make themselves feel better.
That was a hard revelation for me. But it strengthened my resolve to right the situation and I quickly realized what I had to do. I gave up TV.
What have I learned since I instated the TV ban of November 2016?
I don’t miss it.
Moreover, I feel better about myself.
You see I’m not constantly being advertised to anymore. I’m not being made to feel that I need more and more and more to be happy.
I feel that I am enough as a person. I know enough. I own enough. I have enough. I am content.
Without TV, I have much more control over the media I am inundated with. Print advertising is much easier to see through than video advertising.
I think advertising is a large reason why I used to feel like I had to tare others down to build myself up. I was constantly being inundated with the call to be, have, and do more. How could you not feel inadequate?
We live in a reality TV culture and we have a reality TV president. It’s your choice to opt out of the smoke and mirrors.
Now that I’ve stepped off the TV treadmill I have no plans to go back.
I spend more time with friends, I spend more time outside, I spend more time doing instead of watching. I spend more time creating instead of consuming.
I thought that giving up TV might create a disconnect between myself and my peers. I feared that it might socially antiquate me. But guess what, there is a lot more to talk about than reality shows! It’s been just fine!
*Disclaimer: I did watch most of “This is Us” because it gave me an opportunity to hang out with friends (my roommate hosts a ‘This is Us’ night at our house). I gave it up though because there is enough tragedy in my life at work.*
Heck, I read more books and I talk to people about them! Let’s bring print media back into vogue.
Now it’s your turn. How do you all feel about TV? Advertising? News Media? Reality TV culture? How do you feel when you get away from advertising? Any book suggestions?