“Turn to Fox…they fighting on Jerry Springer!!!”

It seems like a lifetime ago that my girls and I rushed home from elementary school to check out the drama on my then favorite talk show. Almost all of the show topics were ridiculous, but you had those days in which guests couldn’t control their rage and went to blows on national TV. It was crazy! And then…it was the norm. Springer’s guests began getting more and more violent each day, and, over time, it became less and less exciting. The show–to my wonderment–still runs, and the guests still fight like dogs in the street.

The trajectory of reality show violence has not been so different albeit a bit slower to develop. The rare slap on The Real World has grown into the knockdown, drag-out scrapping of Jersey Shore. And, predictably, fans are more excited than horrified. Take a peek at Twitter during an airing of Basketball Wives, and watch how titillated people are by the sight of a full-grown mother of teenagers wrecking shop on another woman like she’s seventeen again.

I’m not looking down at the reality show junkies from some towering place of morality; if I had cable, I’d probably watch a bit more of this crap. I firmly throw myself under the “we need to do better” bus with the rest of y’all who get into the antics. I just can’t help but to wonder…why do we like this crap? Why are we so excited not just for the regular shenanigans but for the fighting more so than anything else?

Perhaps reality show fighting is for some what violent, death-laden films video games and music are for others–an odd way to depart from our daily lives. I’d wager that much of our fascination with reality show fighting is tied to escapism. In our wildest dreams, we couldn’t behave as these people do without major consequences. You might want to punch the girl who spread a rumor about you at work, but you’d lose your job. You’d love to douse the back-stabbing former friend with a glass of Moscato, but that may alienate your entire crew. In some twisted way the hair-pulling and face-grabbing characters on these shows might be speaking to our own dark fantasies of anti-social behavior. There’s also the proverbial ‘train-wreck’ phenomenon–as bad as it looks, you can’t divert your gaze. You can’t help but to be drawn in by the nonsense. It’s so bad, it’s good. It’s a guilty pleasure, and all those other clichéd terms we use to justify doing something we know to be abhorrent.

There is not necessarily a commentary to be made about the folks who watch these shows, as they are a diverse group of viewers. You can be an upstanding member of society and enjoy trashy television.  The problems come in for those folks who are unable to draw the lines between what is acceptable only for entertainment, and for what works in the streets. Also, there are those people who are unable to separate the Tami Romans and the Snookies (who are well-paid to exaggerate what seems to be some of their worst real life behaviors) from the women who look like them in “real life.”

I’m not sure how or why I can get hype watching NeNe Leakes get in a cast mate’s face, and then get disgusted when I see NeNe Jenkins on the block doing the same thing. But, I also don’t know how much longer I can justify the contradiction. To what extent is our appetite for trash TV fueling the trash that we see in real life?

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