TV is not vulgar and prurient and dumb because the people who compose the audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests.
This is partly true, but I think there is something else going on too - the reality TV explosion is more than just chasing ratings through prurience. When I look at most reality TV shows, I am reminded of Greek mythology. The TV network looks down from Olympus, and plucks some ordinary mortal from obscurity, and gets him to do strange things for our amusement, unsure whether he'll see a shower of gold or be chained to a rock for eternity.
I think that the reality TV trend plays to the networks' need to feel powerful, and as they lose the wholesale power of swaying opinion and determining conversation topics, they reach for the power over individuals in a more direct and insidious way.
The notion of 'reality TV' bears some examination - 'reality' apparently consists of obeying arbitrary and complex rules, lying to your family or backstabbing your competitors, twisting the truth to put you in the best possible light in the rare hope of getting a million dollars instead of them. Anyone who has been through the TV commissioning process will see where this model of reality comes from.
Of course, this just suggests a few more possible reality shows:
- Sisyphus rocks
- Augean stable hand
- Pandora's dilemma - "take the money", "open the box"
- Blind Date with Zeus - what animal will you get?