A few weeks ago, my wife and I sat down to watch the reboot of Queer Eye. We were a bit skeptical. After all, the original debuted fifteen years ago, at the beginning of the reality-TV boom and also at a time when any queer representation on TV could be seen as edgy, fun, uncomplicatedly moving in the right direction. Now we’re thinking harder about the underlying messages in our popular culture, and crucially, the phrase reality TV has evolved in what it conveys—what was once novelty became a tired formula and has now become a ready-made explanation for everything that is wrong with American social and political culture.
As reality-TV fans who consider ourselves to be thoughtful, politically progressive people, it’s become harder for us to like the shows we used to like. The pleasure is overridden by the angst about deriving pleasure from that. The constant manipulations, the hypersimplified worldview, the arbitrary episodic contests that end in someone’s spectacular fall from grace, the distracting appeal of gossipy intrigue—it all seems to have conspired to turn a reality-TV star into the world’s most powerful person. When Emily Nussbaum wrote in The New Yorker about how The Apprentice shaped the Trump character that played so explosively in the 2016 election, how could it not feel horrifying to be the kind of person susceptible to the characterization techniques of the genre? When Jennifer Weiner took to the New York Times to swear off The Bachelor now that the nasty distortions of reality TV were infecting actual reality, she was describing a lot of people’s inner turmoil. Read More