What Awful Reality TV and Suburban Living Have to Do With the Tea Party's Lack of Empathy
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In place of gossip, suburbanites have turned toward tabloid magazines and reality TV to scratch that itch to gawk at other people’s personal lives. As noted urbanist Richard Florida explained to New York Magazine , reality TV signals understanding that it’s filling the gossip void in the lives of lonely suburbanites, by filling the set design with familiar aspects of suburban lives, but then populating it with the real people experiencing dramas that are shut off from suburban dwellers who don’t have enough interconnections to gossip about their own neighbors. Florida didn’t seem to think this was such a bad substitute, but looking at some of the effects of suburban culture on the body politic should give us reason for concern.
After all, unlike with regular gossip about your friends and neighbors, reality TV and tabloid stars aren’t people you have to deal with or empathize with. In fact, reality TV and tabloids go out of their way to make their stars seem like horrible, shallow people you can judge without any empathy at all. Enjoying reality TV is only somewhat like regular gossip, in that there’s the same judging and cataloguing of behavior. But unlike with real world gossip, there’s no empathetic side. It’s just all pointing and laughing, with very little sympathy and absolutely no value put on problem-solving. If the beauty salon in my small town had been nearly as vicious as your average reality TV show, everyone would have avoided it for fear of picking up a terminal case of bitchiness.
So this is how it is for much of suburban America: they’re being encouraged to demonize and sit in judgment without taking much time to actually get to know others and sympathize with their problems. Suburban isolation makes it harder to see other people as real, important and human. No wonder it’s increasingly easy for suburban conservatives to judge others with an unrelenting harshness that shows no indication they even realize their targets are fellow human beings. No wonder they can whoop with joy at the idea of someone dying for lack of health insurance or suggest that even married, monogamous women are dirty sluts who don’t deserve any sympathy for their health care concerns. The complex realities of living have become increasingly alien to large swaths of America. They have very little exposure to what real people’s lives are like, and it’s that much easier for them to treat other people like they’re simply toys that can be tossed out with the trash when they have no more use for them.