I Hate Being Right.

5 comments February 13th, 2007at 10:14am Posted by Eli

Here’s me, almost two years ago, babbling about reality TV and “Personal Narrative”:

Before reality TV, if you were a nobody, deep down on some level, you knew you were a nobody. It was just the way the world was. But now, it looks like any nobody can attain 15 minutes of undeserved stardom on some cheesy reality show, so now instead of being just a nobody, everyone can think of themselves as the star of their own reality show, and behave as the stars of actual reality show have instructed them: Be rude, be loud, be selfish, be deceitful, be narcissistic and vain, that’s the only way to get ahead and get noticed! Reality TV is steroids for the Personal Narrative, complete with the ‘roid rage and general social maladjustment, as dysfunctional, antisocial behavior is made to seem normal and even admirable.

Here’s Joel Achenbach in Sunday’s WaPo:

America has become a land where modesty is considered slightly pathological, and potentially curable with medication. We’re a society in which delusions of grandeur are actively encouraged by parents and teachers who fear that a child’s self-esteem cannot endure the torment of being merely somewhat above average. (How do I know? Because I’m one of America’s leading arbiters of truth. On my business card it says, “Arbiter of Truth, Raconteur, Sensualist.”) The most popular show in the country, and the best indication that we are a nation gone insane, is “American Idol,” which is full of people who believe they have singing talent even as they sound like cats trying to hawk up hairballs.


Hubris has become as essential to our culture as fossil fuel. We do everything bigger, louder, faster. Zeal has replaced equanimity. The passionate outburst is the new behavioral baseline. Shame is as old-fashioned as marmalade.

What’s strange is that the tendency for excess to backfire does not seem to have the same inhibitory quality that it once did. People fail upward.

Bode Miller somehow remains our most famous Olympic-class skier despite getting skunked at the Olympics. Lindsay Lohan can commute to rehab all she wants without any evaporation of her celebrity. Barry Bonds may be up to his thyroid in rumors about performance-enhancing drugs, but he still briefly got his own reality show on ESPN. O.J. Simpson’s “confession” book finally pushed shamelessness too far even for our indulgent society. But just before that, he managed to produce a pay-per-view TV show, “Juiced,” in which he played pranks on people, like trying to sell a white Bronco at a used car lot. I can’t wait for Charles Manson to have a talk show.

…It used to be that people suspected that their successes were undeserved; now they’re more likely to think it’s their lack of fame that’s bizarre….

And today’s NYT completes the cycle…

Schoolyard scraps, spectacular skateboard spills, puppy-love quarrels, goofy antics like placing a slice of American cheese over the face of a snoring buddy, and bruising stunts like hurling one’s body through a neighbor’s wooden fence – these and other staples of suburban teenage life have taken on a new dimension as online cinema verite. Instead of being whispered about among friends and then fading away, such rites of ridiculousness are now routinely captured on video and posted on the Internet for worldwide perusal, and posterity.

“Teens have been doing inappropriate things for a long time, but now they think they can become celebrities by doing it,” said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Schneider Children´┐Żs Hospital at Long Island Jewish Medical Center.


“Anytime a teen is around friends now, anything they do can be filmed and put online,” Ms. Aftab said. “They say, ‘I can become a movie star or at least make it onto “The Montel Williams Show.” ‘…”

Much as I enjoy YouTube, one of its pernicious effects has been to bring reality TV to the masses – it’s like DIY Punk’d or Jackass

When will people realize that not everyone gets to be famous? Or that not everyone who becomes famous deserves it?

(I suppose blogging could be considered an extension of this phenomenon, but it’s generally not as frenetic… depending on the blog.)

Entry Filed under: Technology,TV,Wankers


  • 1. oldwhitelady  |  February 13th, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    I prefer to be unnoticed, thank you, very much… except when I’m trying to get someone’s attention, of course:) By that, I mean that when trying to get service somewhere, it is nice to be noticed, such as more water or coffee at a restaurant, or information about some product… then, I’d like to be noticed, but just as someone who needs to be waited on in an ordinary fashion.

  • 2. Spear and Magic  |  February 13th, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    I think you’re missing the upside of all of this. Allow me, then, to be the first to salute our brave, idiotic youth who push beyond the envelope of personal safety in order to achieve their YouTube notoriety. May their crash landings be splattery and final, their removal from the gene and cultural pool swift and decisive! I do not mind their having their 15 minutes of fame, so long as they are their final 15 minutes on Earth.

  • 3. Eli  |  February 13th, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    True – if you’re *that* stupid, best to remove yourself from the gene pool before you can pee in it.

  • 4. Interrobang  |  February 13th, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Hey, maybe there is a long-term upside, kind of a “Long Tail” phenomenon. Maybe the not-so-elusive quality we refer to as “fame” will eventually democratise, with more people becoming slightly more well-known outside their immediate circle of family and friends, and fewer people who are genuinely “famous” as we understand the term. An interconnected world where almost everyone is a minor celebrity as we currently understand it, and no Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, TomKat, and whoever else sounds kind of good to me.

  • 5. Eli  |  February 13th, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    Heh. I actually thought you were going in a different direction and say that the novelty of ephemeral unearned fame would wear off to the point where it became not worth seeking.

    Alas, I think that’s probably going to work out about as well as my hope that loudly showing off the fact that you have a cellphone (“All the *cool* kids are texting!”) will someday become gauche and uncool.

    Interesting, blogging actually does offer a little of what you describe – there are a whole buch of people who know us as a result of our own blogs, or comments on other blogs, who would otherwise have no idea who we are. Which is admittedly kinda cool, but I’m certainly not delusional enough to think that makes me famous in any rational sense of the world.

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