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This is one way to come to terms with your fellow citizens. Much reality TV, by contrast, communicates a relative openness of judgment, though judgment is its one constant—and does so also by its wider identity of situation between the viewer and those before the cameras. (Nearly everybody has dated, and, from rich to poor, nearly everybody fears the police when driving and will call on them when threatened.) Reality TV’s judgment falls on “another oneself,” however much one retains the right to disown and ridicule this nitwitted fellow-citizen. Nowadays, at every level of our society, there is a hunger for judgment. Often this becomes summary judgment—not so much the wish to know the truth, but the brutal decisionism that would rather be wrong than stay in suspension. This is the will not to deliberate but to sentence. In the political realm, it has influenced the shape of the current disaster. Its soft manifestations own the therapeutic talk shows, in the sniffling and nose wiping of a Dr. Phil, where the expert is never at a loss. He will not say: “No, your situation is too messed up for me to advise you; I have a similar problem; think for yourself.” Whereas the cheapest and rawest reality TV offers you a chance to judge people like you, people who do lots of the same things you do. It is cheap, it is amoral, it has no veneer of virtue, it is widely censured and a guilty pleasure, and it can be more educational and truthful and American than most anything else, very suitable for our great republic.

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and power-hunger are the sins built into the microcosm, so the fixed norm is the flaw introduced into shows of pure judgment. It produces the third ideal type of reality TV: the show of the industry standard.

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In this underlying dream, we were neither exactly wrong nor right. The promise of the 500 channels went to waste. The techno-utopians’ fantasies shifted to the internet. Nothing like the paradise we hoped for came to fruition on TV, that’s for sure. Instead we got reality TV.

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