Is TV Becoming More Inane?

By Amy Wagner on October 15, 2013

It all started when I was watching The Soup on the E! Network, a channel not exactly known for its critically acclaimed or intellectually stimulating television. For the record, I love The Soup; it's witty, sharp, and even manages to poke fun at the network it has aired on since its beginning in 2004. I can't say the same for the other shows on E!, however. But I digress. It all started when I saw a commercial for Eric and Jessie: Game On, a reality show on E! that chronicles the newly married lives of Eric Decker, wide receiver for the Broncos, and Jessie James, a country singer. The commercial opens on James musing on whether or not she's ready for babies (she isn't) before cutting to a scene in which she purchases a pregnancy test. It ends with a shot of James with her hand over her mouth, dramatically gasping and leaving the viewer in eternal suspense.

This commercial didn't have me excitedly wondering whether or not Decker and James are expecting a baby. Instead, it left me thinking about the dangerously high level of narcissism one must possess to let the cameras perpetually roll, especially during moments like these (and yes, purchasing a pregnancy test in your best sweats counts as an intimate moment in my book). And then I started to think even more – is TV becoming more inane?

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We have the real housewives of…well, everywhere. Then there's the plethora of shows involving the Kardashian family and their seemingly endless cast of relatives. Let's not forget Jersey Shore and its host of spinoffs. I've known people that put incredible time and effort into choosing their preferred contestant for American Idol, yet absolutely none when selecting their choice for…the president of the United States. And the fact there are enough stupid shows to comprise this list, ranking the 54 dumbest reality TV shows of all time, simply proves that there are far too many ridiculous ones out there. For some reason, people seem to eat them up. Look closer and there's the potent combination of networks desperately wanting good ratings with “stars” willing to sign $40 million checks for the promise of three more years of the trashiest TV imaginable (and that $40 mil is for ONE SHOW, by the way). The network wants ratings, the utterly talentless celebrities want money, and (some of) the people want mindless television. Simple enough, right?

Television didn't used to be like this. “An American Family,” a 12-episode documentary that premiered in 1973, is commonly thought of as the first reality show. But it wasn't until 1992, which saw the premiere of MTV's “The Real World,” that inane TV really took off – hence, the ratings/money symbiosis. But reality TV isn't a phenomenon that gets better with age. In fact, it seems to be getting worse.

I've concluded that the answer to my question is yes – TV is absolutely becoming more inane, seemingly with every passing month. The stars of these debacles, however flimsy their claims to fame are, seem to unfailingly gather enough of a following to have people interested in spending 30 to 60 precious minutes of free time to watch them go about their everyday lives. These shows have to have mundane moments; one would surmise that every second can't be exciting. But it's the drama, outbursts, and unexpected twists punctuating the boring parts that grab viewers' perpetual attention, causing them to become loyal followers of these shows for weeks, months, or even years.

What's perhaps must puzzling is how these people, with fame that's dubious at best, manage to garner such devoted fans. I'll leave it to grudgingly curmudgeonly, writing for Technorati: “Being ‘catapulted’ to fame is, oddly enough, a very apt description for a lot of these people. When something is catapulted it very quickly reaches an impressive zenith, people may stare up at the projectile in wonder and awe, and think 'wow, look at that, I’ve never seen that particular brand of ballistic trickery before' – but the excitement quickly dulls and the hapless missile falls out of the sky and lands with a silent thud back in the no-man’s land of obscurity.” For those of us who aren't enamored with this type of TV, let's hope that obscurity befalls it sooner rather than later.

Amy is a third-year student at the University of Denver majoring in Communication Studies, with concentrations in organizational and intercultural communication, as well as minoring in business and international studies. She is a Colorado native, avid reader, coffee drinker, lover of all things active, and now, thanks to Uloop, a writer.

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