Have I mentioned that I love "Infinite Jest"?

Over at Ordinary Gents, Will laments reality TV:
I seldom watch reality television, but some shows – Survivor, The Amazing Race – strike me as basically benign competitions among well-adjusted adults. ‘Jersey Shore’ and its ilk seem fundamentally different. Instead of competition, MTV (and Vh1) collect a bunch of of maladjusted personalities and throw them together under one roof. Add money, booze and sex and the show’s original premise is almost irrelevant – the core appeal of these programs is the chance to watch people make fools of themselves on camera.


I believe in personal agency, so if people want to subject themselves to what amounts to ritualized public humiliation, I can only shake my head and look the other way. But I do have a plea for the viewers who sustain these misbegotten franchises, the same people who would never consider subjecting themselves to the whims of MTV’s cameras: Please, don’t feed the beast. It’s not funny or clever to laugh at people whose failings are mercilessly exploited by the reality television industry.

Tucked away in endnote 24, in which James Incandenza's filmography is listed and described, the late (and desperately missed) David Foster Wallace put this:
“Cage III – Free Show. B.S. Latrodectus Mactans Productions/Infernatron Animation Concepts, Canada. Cosgrove Watt, P.A. Heaven, Everard Maynell, Pam Heath; partial animation; 35mm; 65 minutes; black and white; sound. The figure of Death (Heath) presides over the front entrance of a carnival sideshow whose spectators watch performers undergo unspeakable degradations so grotesquely compelling that the spectators’ s eyes become larger and larger until the spectators themselves are transformed into gigantic eyeballs in chairs, while on the other side of the sideshow tent the figure of Life (Heaven) uses a megaphone to invite fairgoers to an exhibition in which, if the fairgoers consent to undergo unspeakable degradations, they can witness ordinary persons gradually turn into giant eyeballs. INTERLACE TELENTFEATURE CARTRIDGE #357-65-65″

My friends, we are rapidly assuming giant eyeball shape.

Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote about a bit of MTV reality show offal called "A Double Shot at Love," possibly the worst show in the history of television. Sadly, the dial is now crowded with programming devoted solely to the very worst excesses of human behavior. (I know that there is a lot of great television to be watched as well.) And the harpies, trollops and louts that populate this demimonde are more and more treated as de facto celebrities instead of the awful, awful people they are.

And the truth is that this hurts. Literally. After watching an episode of "Shipmates" years and years ago, my best friend (you know who you are) and I looked at each other with queasy expressions and realized that half an hour of atrocious reality television had made our souls ache. As glib as that may seem, it was true. While we may not be watching prisoners being ripped apart by lions, the televisual Colosseum of today offers degradations that are undeniably disquieting. What this says about us as a culture is no similarly unsettling.


  1. Oh dear. I had forgotten about Shipmates.

  2. I am so with you on the "televisual Colosseum". At first I loathed "Survivor" because I've been on a couple of high-altitude expeditions and everything was so was so fake.

    Now I loathe & despise the "reality shows" because the entire premise is "watch others be humiliated and degraded for your pleasure."