We're Not All Exhibitionists Now, But We All Watch Them Now

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Nov. 30 2009 2:49 PM

We're Not All Exhibitionists Now, But We All Watch Them Now

Kerry, I take your point, that there’s something wrong-headed and overly sympathetic about considering the Salahis , the Heenes, and their grotesque, attention-seeking ilk exclusively as an outgrowth of our perverted, fame-seeking "culture." When we say that these people are what we deserve, we’re letting them off the hook for behaving in a way that the vast majority of us still, thankfully, never would. But to say there’s not something new going on, that attention-seeking now is the same as attention-seeking always, just with the technology to amplify the seekers’ reach, feels wrong. You argue that the Salahis and Heenes are "painful to watch because they're desperate to be liked, and it's awkward to encounter that level of neediness in other people." But they’re not desperate to be liked, they’re just desperate to be noticed.

What distinguishes reality TV from other fame-making mediums is that to get famous because of it, one doesn’t have to be liked one bit. (For more on reality TV’s unique terribleness, James Wolcott has a scathing, cheekily overdramatic column on it in the most recent Vanity Fair .) Movie stars succeed because we like them-our liking them, or their persona, is what makes them movie stars. That’s still more or less true. (Just this weekend, Sandra Bullock demonstrated what a bunch of goodwill and a half-decent, cheeseball movie can get you at the box office.) But for a regular person to become a reality TV star we don’t have to like him, we just have to be interested in him. As Puck, Omarosa, Jon and Kate, Kim Kardashian, and scores of others have ably demonstrated, disturbed, bitchy, unhinged, borderline crazy, fame-obsessed, self-aggrandizing, and even stupid can all be interesting, sometimes.

Advertisement

Maybe once, not so long ago, most people who wanted to be famous also wanted to be liked, because those two things were connected. They're not anymore. If the number of people who want to be noticed, who want attention and are willing to do anything to get it, hasn’t increased (and I think maybe it has), at the very least those people can now get what they want by behaving badly, with limited social stigma. How did we let that happen? And how do we stop giving them the recognition they want so desperately? Uh oh, there I went, blaming it all on us again.

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

How Canada’s Shooting Tragedies Have Shaped Its Gun Control Politics

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?

Science

“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 9:19 PM The Phone Call Is Twenty Minutes of Pitch-Perfect, Wrenching Cinema
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.