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October 8, 2015

TV 101: Who Cares If the Stars Are Dancing?

by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Mar 30th 2011 4:30PM
Dancing With the StarsI watch a lot of television -- some would say an unhealthy amount -- walking the thin line between hobby and obsession. I have the luxury of having jobs (writing, teaching) that allow me to sheepishly categorize my viewing habits as "research," no different from Cousteau or Goodall, but probably with more Cheetos.

Through all the "research," all the time spent lying in bed thinking, all the shouting of things at random passers-by, there's still one thing I have yet to wrap my admittedly gargantuan head around: Why does anyone -- even members of her own family -- care what Kirstie Alley is doing?! Unless she's making you a pie or babysitting your infant (that's my show idea -- don't even think about stealing it), why would anyone care?

I don't mean to single out Ms. Alley, but I'm using her as an emblem for all of celebreality-dom. The truth is that there are countless others out there slapping on makeup and inking deals with the devil for one more shot at being recognized in line at Subway -- enough to necessitate the obnoxious term "celebreality."

In the world of celebreality, there are three distinct types: the washed up D-lister with enough of a career to be recognized as "that dude from that one movie/show/song/sport" (John Rich, Mark McGrath, David Cassidy); the media-constructed attention whore who is famous simply for being famous (Kendra Wilkinson, NeNe Leakes, Richard Hatch); and the careening train-wreck (Gary Busey, Kirstie Alley, La Toya Jackson).

Granted, many can inhabit multiple categories at the same time, often shifting from one to the next according to what will get them the most face time, but essentially these are the basic food groups of celebreality that we're eating unhealthy portions of each day.

So, back to my original question: Why do we care so much about these people with few, if any, redeeming qualities? Before you can answer with "I don't care about any of them, I just watch hoping someone takes a swing at the host" I would like to point out that if no one really cared, shows like 'Dancing With the Stars,' 'Celebrity Apprentice,' and 'Dancing With the Stars of Celebrity Apprentice' (don't think about stealing that one, either) wouldn't be churned out every season like so much nut-butter.

Many people will fall back on the escapist nature of television as an excuse or a reason for watching these types of shows. Television has always afforded people the opportunity to leave their lives for a spell and to immerse themselves in things foreign and detached from their everyday experience. That makes practical sense, on some level, with shows like 'The Real Housewives' that showcase a lifestyle or a very particular or unique existence, but who's dreaming about what it might be like to do the tango with Chris Jericho other than closeted wrestling fans?

The basic premise of reality television is a "look at this, this exists" notion that feeds, almost nurtures, the voyeur and the escapist in all of us. We escape and either wish we shared Hugh Hefner with two other buxom blondes, or we pity and marginalize those who do. Either way, we gain a level of satisfaction, however fleeting and shallow it might be.

How does a show like 'DWTS' fit into this paradigm? What kind of escape does taking "celebrities" and forcing them into hyper-contrived situations that in no way reflect any sort of "real"-life scenario, offer?

If you're answering these questions as you go, you should be pretty close to an answer to what it all means. We want to see people fail. These shows put people who are perceived as being more important than us, and somehow better than us based on superficial determinants, into positions where the end result is ultimately failure. That's what we love: people who are not us, failing epically.

It's a form of pop-cultural bullying when we build "celebrities" up only to systematically kick the legs out from under them for our own sadistic enjoyment. Ralph Macchio already had his leg swept once; he shouldn't have to be put through it again just so we can feel better about ourselves for 30 seconds.

I get it. There's a certain charm to watching Meat Loaf go ballistic on Gary Busey, or watching grown men and women refer to someone as Meat Loaf without laughing hysterically. There's no harm in tuning in for the opportunity, however slim and fantastical, to see Lisa Rinna make out with Karina Smirnoff. But check yourself before you wreck humanity, and think about why you're watching.

Tell us: Why do you watch Celebreality, seriously?

Dr. Vaughan teaches English/Media/Humor courses at Binghamton University in upstate New York, and he'll give you the shirt off his floor. You can also check out his blog or find him on Facebook.

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John Baek

Becuase "some" of them are hot and are pleasing to look at.
But I do agree that it is also pleasing to watch them fail for some reason.
It makes me feel as if the world has a little more fairness/ equality since they have the money and fame etc. that I don't have.

March 31 2011 at 1:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Would love to hear answers to this question, as it baffles my mind why so many watch these types of shows. You might be on to something with the thought that viewers feel better about themselves by watching others fail.... very pathetic if you ask me.

March 31 2011 at 1:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I like your description of the media-constructed attention ***** who is famous for simply being famous. It reminds me of a comment from Clive James on his PBS series "Fame" - "Fame without accomplishment is no life at all".

March 31 2011 at 12:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joyce Nicodemus

First off, I have no blog to pitch here but I do have an opinion. Granted, calling those selected to appear on the show, "stars" is a stretch but I like the premise of people "like me" who usually have no dance experience trying their best to win that stupid little trophy just for the bragging rights. I daydream along with them wearing beautiful clothes and doing my damnest to look good doing it. It is escapism but it's better than sitting around stewing about the dismal state of the economy and the war and crooked politicians and leaders worldwide so many minutes of your day.

And I am rooting for Kirstie.

March 30 2011 at 9:23 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
D. Russell

I agree. Dancing with the stars should change its name to dancing with B-list actors that have a lot of time on there hands. My wife and sister-in-law love to watch the show. But it has become pathetic. Check out my blog: www.tvobscurities.blogspot.com

March 30 2011 at 4:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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