Recently I was talking to a couple of college interns at work and happened to mention something I’d seen on MTV’s Jersey Shore the previous night. Before I could even finish, all three of them released a collective gasp. “YOU watch Jersey SHORE?” I nodded. They giggled as if I’d just told them I dressed like a chicken at parties on weekends to supplement my marketing gig. Hilarious how hilarious I’ve become without trying.
A friend put this into context for me: you have to keep up with current pop culture so that when you make references, you sound credible and current. But this is not that. I’m talking about the unspoken shame in admitting that you watch reality TV or like pop music.
While I occasionally tune in to NPR while driving, I prefer to listen to pop music. It wakes me up, OK? And sure, I watch documentaries on war and infrastructure. I dig Masterpiece Theater. But I also dabble in Dr. Phil and Teen Mom and Hoarders. I liked VH1′s Rock of Love. (Season 1 was my favorite.) And Oprah too–I was almost on Oprah, too. More on that soon.
So, for all of you out there who deem reality TV, talk shows and other stuff as beneath you, I offer 7 unscientific reasons why watching reality TV is good for you and why you should indulge from time to time:
1. You’ll sound less old. If you say, “What’s a Snooki?” or “What’s ‘The Situation‘,” you sound old. Now, maybe you are old and don’t mind admitting that you have no idea what “the kids” are watching these days. Me? I know I’m getting old. I see it in my reflection every day. I don’t need to be reminded of it every time someone mentions a TV show in conversation and I’m clueless. If you feel out of the loop on a daily basis in conversations, plop yourself in front of a reality TV channel and QUICK.
2. Get more street cred. Media viewing habits are so fragmented that it often seems as if we’re all watching something different. It’s nice to know what programs people are referring to, even if you don’t watch every single episode. It’s common ground in increasingly uncommon times. And you look like you are keeping up with the times and the Kardashians.
Plus, it’s fun surprising people. Once a new acquaintance made a comment about watching “LA Ink” and shyly said, “Oh, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about.” When I said I watched the show, knew who Kat Von D was and that I also had several tattoos, the conversation expanded and we went from acquaintance to friend in no time flat. You are what you watch. And so are your friends.
3. Be less shell-shocked by the “real world” when you see it. When I see people behaving badly or acting strangely or doing something some might consider “unconventional” out in the “real” real world, it’s not as shocking. I’ve probably already seen it or something like it on reality TV. I’ve had time to process my thoughts about “abnormal” behavior so it saves me time out in the real world. Now that’s efficient!
Confession: I like to say that I watch reality TV because I’m in marketing, and that’s partly true. I need to stay on top of what people are watching, not watching, what they’re saying, what’s hot, what’s not, so that I don’t write or pitch an idea that’s…old, out of touch or just not in sync with today’s world or my audience. It’s not for me. It’s for the good of the brands I represent. That’s…mostly true. Mostly, I enjoy it. And I don’t want to look old.
4. Reality TV is a self-esteem boost and stress relief. I can’t tell you how many times watching Super Nanny made me feel better about my shortcomings as a mom. And just knowing that there is a wife out in the world who bottles deer piss for her husband’s side business made me feel better about being my household’s primary dog pooper scooper.
Or how trying to watch the Real Housewives of any city took my mind off of the myriad things I worry about on a daily basis, from global warming to Did I sign that field trip permission slip? to potential layoffs at work down to, crap, am I wearing two different earrings AGAIN?, which leads to, Am I getting Alzheimer’s? Watching CNN gives me more things to worry about. Maybe this makes me a dunderhead, but as my design friend Kathy would say, “I’m sorry, but I’m not apologizing.”
5. Reality TV provides many teachable moments for kids. While we all agree some shows are not for kids, some have provided terrific opportunities for me to talk to my kids about things that matter. MTV’s Teen Moms is a perfect example. The girls on the show are often struggling to grow up themselves let alone raise a baby, sometimes without the support of the babies’ fathers or their families.
It’s a realistic, not glamorous, portrayal of real life. It’s made me realize what young teen moms really go through. Not everyone is open to having those types of conversations with their kids, but for those of us who are, this makes it easier to have conversations that otherwise might be forced or not had at all.
6. It’s guilt-free, budget-friendly fun. There’s not much to laugh about in today’s economy and I’m a busy working mom with two kids, no time and a lot of laundry, so I take my fun where I can get it. Reality TV is a perfectly safe, inexpensive outlet that comes with my cable package, doesn’t require a sitter and won’t ruin my lungs or my liver, make me hungover or make my butt bigger (as long as I don’t eat M&M’s while watching it).
Unless you count how sheepish I am when Hubby catches me watching “Wife Swap” again and I say, “What?!? I’m watching it for work,” and he says, “Uh huh.” Then I remind him of his penchant for watching WWE and there is a moment of silence before he asks if I want some M&Ms. Speaking of Hubby…
7. Reality TV gives us something to talk about. Earlier this year, I took Hubby to the Oprah show. It was a surprise he would never in a million years guess let alone want. But early on in our relationship, he always liked to make our dates a surprise. So, competitive as I am, I have to spend the rest of our married life together trying to top him.
His birthday happens to be on the same day as Oprah’s and she was giving away tickets to people who shared her birthday. I wrote an essay about how I was going to blindfold him and drive him downtown early that morning and surprise him with tickets to the show. At the last minute, the producers asked if they could film the surprise and feature us on the show in a brief segment.
I was scrambling to make arrangements for my kids, so it didn’t dawn on me what would be entailed until the night before the show as I sat on my bed trying to videotape myself saying the loose script they had provided me with only hours earlier, at which time I panicked when I realized that:
A. I was going to need A LOT of makeup and I talk like a typical “Da Bears” Chicagoan (eek!)
B. This will be seen live by the ENTIRE WORLD including everyone I know (eek!)
C. My husband is NOT an Oprah fan and will NEVER speak to me again (ruh roh)
D. My husband is going to sit on Oprah’s stage during a LIVE show and look exactly like he does when I make him go shopping for pants: depressed, pained, trapped. (Oprah was gonna be pissed!)
Reality TV is a lot harder than it looks. Luckily, they called later that night to cancel our segment, replacing it with a “No texting and driving” one. We still got to go to the show and even received gift certificates for 4 free nights at a Hilton Hotel. Even though we didn’t appear on stage, I got so much out of that brush with reality TV’s 15 minutes of fame–between the clandestine calls to family and friends, hilarious suppositions about Hubby’s potential reaction, furtive Facebook status updates (“It’s 5am, I’m in Dunkin Donuts drive-thru and Hubby is blindfolded. Hope they don’t call the cops on me.”), it was a bright, exciting moment in an otherwise long, dark, freezing cold January in Chicago.
And if that isn’t a good thing, I don’t know what is.