On the surface, the sentiment seems straightforward, sensible and pleasantly righteous enough: “Stop making stupid people famous.”
That sounds like a great idea. After almost two decades of Hiltons, Kardashians, a Richie, assorted “House Wives of …” and bearded redneck dynasties AND Honey Boo Boo, as well as countless reality shows of the type that require participants to compete not on vocational skill, but on guile, personality and the whims of flaky group politics, well, we’ve easily seen a lot of stupid people made famous.
And it seems just plain wrong that stupid people should be famous, that idiocy and narcissism, and bad behavior should be rewarded with the financial spoils and celebrity that most hard-working people will never even get close to in their lifetimes, even if they aspire to it.
So the sentiment to stop making stupid people famous is well-placed and understandable.
But we’re going to disagree.
Making stupid people famous is an industry and it’s not going to stop in the foreseeable future, not until people (audiences) lose interest in watching stupid people. It’s the watching of them that makes them famous. Yes, they may be stupid and undeserving and crude and base, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not interesting. In fact, they can be very interesting. #sad.
At minimum, in the lowest-common denominator way, stupid people doing stupid things on TV is very entertaining. Packaged the right way, a lot of people will want to witness all the above variations of stupid-famous-people behavior (what we refer to as “SFP bevavior”).
This entertainment just can’t be “created” in the same way as a TV comedy or drama is. Though the set-ups, scripting and scenes may be planned ahead of time by a cadre of writers and producers, and reality TV shows are full-scale “productions,” and though reality TV stars are playing to — or are at least aware of — the camera, their behavior, even when easily predictable, is unscripted and often hammy and this can be fascinating, entertaining, cringe-worthy, amusing, laughable, intriguing, offensive and simultaneously all of above rolled into one. Because they’re not actors and because they’re not “acting” in the professional sense of the word. And maybe because they’re a little stupid.
The sentiment and argument doesn’t just apply to reality TV stars, of course, but to others in the industrial-entertainment-media complex: Super models, film and television actors, musicians, politicians. Not all, not most, but a damn lot.
And most important to note, “stupid people” can still have specific talents and can produce amazing, beautiful things that add to the culture and society at large, sometimes in profound, far-reaching and inspirational ways, whether it’s through art, music, film, dance, political vision or sport, to list but a few examples. And sometimes, there’s a very fine line between “stupidity” and “genius.” (For some reason, the late, visionary German composer and musician Karlheinz Stockhausen comes to mind, as does the late, great actor Klaus Kinski. Germans…. hmmm.)
Takeaway: We need somebody to unassailably, righteously roll our eyes at and laugh at, somebody who is a deserving target, and somebody we can point to as a cautionary tale and as a teachable example of how not to be, or how not to be an intelligent, reasonable, decent human being.
Full disclosure: We once appear on a very popular mid-2000s reality TV show with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie called “The Simple Life 2: Interns.” We appear on camera with these stars for less than 15 seconds.