Loser vs. Loser: Why We Love Reality Shows

The finalists on Masterchef: Stephen, Claudia (the winner), and Derrick.

The finalists on Masterchef: Stephen, Claudia (the winner), and Derrick.

Everybody loves to see a loser win.

Tonight on MasterChef, finalists Stephen, Derrick, and Claudia struggled to cook the best dishes for a prize of $250,000 and the publication of their own cookbook.

But would reality TV be so popular without the rise of amateur culture on the internet?

The internet and reality TV came of age together in the ’90s and the first decade of the 21st century.

According to French philosopher Jean Baudrillard via the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the production and consumption of commodities have been replaced in postmodern society by the “hyperreality” of simulations:   images, spectacles, and the play of signs replace the concepts of production and class conflict.

Certainly Americans like their simulations:  according to Nielsen reports, the average American adult spends 11 hours per day using electronic media (TV, smartphones, computer, etc.).

And now that amateurs have their own culture online, we want to watch it on TV, too.  Losers have their chance to win.

Day job:  waitress.  Night life:  blogger and artist.  Yup, she writes film criticism, posts her quirky illustrations, and tapes her dramatic one-woman show of the Ophelia scenes in Hamlet.   Is she as mad as Ophelia? She is sure one of her blog readers is Benedict Cumberbatch (Hamlet in the production at the Barbican)!  If she dyes her hair blond and sleeps with a director, she WILL be on a reality show and then play Ophelia!

The internet is fun because we don’t have to be too serious.  We can post casual reviews or essays.

At one time I thought it might provide the ideal community. Remember the Well?  But in 20 years, I have seen dozens of online groups rise and fall. Even with a glossier presentation of the real self, the online personae frequently crack up. There are many, many silly, trivial arguments in Yahoo discussion groups, where membership  has waned drastically in recent years, replaced by other social media.  Online friends turn on each other, because they’re narcissistic or nerdy, mad or malicious.  Here’s a good thing: I don’t see arguments at Goodreads.

Reality shows are more honest than the internet, you think.  You see who the winners and losers are.

Well, hardly.

The contestants are losers, as defined by our culture.  On MasterChef, they’re usually working-class, artistic but underemployed, or barely white-collar.  Derrick is a drummer from Fort Myers, Florida; Claudia, a Mexican-American mom and an events manager who lives in a really crummy one-bedroom apartment; and Stephen Lee is an urban gardener who wildly heckles other and seems borderline-Tourettes. Yet they were neck-and-neck in creating beautiful, delicious food.

Artistic Derrick should undoubtedly have won for his eclectic contemporary gourmet food:  the pan-seared venison with root vegetables in huckleberry sauce in a puff-pastry lattice cage was breathtaking.  The lattice cage formed an arch over the venison.  Actually, the judges adored it and were wowed by his plating.

But they gave the prize to Claudia, a lovely, poised person who elevated Mexican food.  I got the impression they gave it to her because they liked her story.  Perhaps they liked the idea of helping a single mom.  She always cooked Mexican food.  Derrick was a gourmet, a true artist.

And so winning is arbitrary, no?

6 thoughts on “Loser vs. Loser: Why We Love Reality Shows

  1. Love this entry, Kat. And if it is a bit extreme for a French girl, it is true that French society is closely following the US. Masterchief has come to us although I have never watched it. I agree about Yahoo groups. And I DO agree with Beaudrillard. Playing with persona is also a weird thing. May wesay weare a weird civilisation? The Romans would gave said the same…

    • Popular culture rules in the U.S. (Everywhere?) I love MasterChef in the summertime! We are indeed a weird civilization. Think of all the landfills of phones and computers they’ll dig up someday.

      Something about Yahoogroups. Fight, fight, fight, even over Jane Austen. I love Emma, and if I’d paid attention to the Janeites it would have been ruined for me!:)

      • I am only 22, French, live alone in the country with my younger sister (20) and one cousin (56) who are my wards because they have Down Syndrome. I could not finish my academic education in Paris as I had to take care of them. Therefore I feel privileged to belong to some Yahoo groups. But I have decided never tofight when I can avoid it – which is most of the time. Bilateral explanarions and discussions are able to smooth lots of things and to understand personalities belonging to these groups. I have lived more happily since I have understood that. And I try to turn ito honey every grain of pollen that is given by each and all. Ancient philosophers, thank you… 🙂

        • You are such a good person, Camille. Goodness, you are young! And you are obviously very well-educated. I love online discussion groups, and, as you say, we don’t have to participate in arguments. In the ’90s I saw book groups elsewhere completely fall apart due to arguments about politics. (How that came up in book groups it’s hard to say.) Perhaps it’s something about writing: people have their say in a way they don’t always have in real life!

  2. At least the bookish blogs and groups are mostly friendly… But it’s alarming how much time we spend on gadgets – I’m off to read a paper book!

    • Yes, everything is too mobile now! The computers are with us on phones, etc.

      It should be impossible for book lovers to have arguments, though it does occasionally happen. I’ve seen huge changes in the membership at various groups I’ve been in for a long time. But at blogs most of us are nice, and anyway, we delete the nasty comments!

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