Over spring break, I did something I never usually get a chance to do (or admit to doing). Dressed in my most impossibly soft pair of sweats, with chips in hand, I plopped down on the couch, flipped on the TV and spent a couple of hours watching junk food for the mind, also known as Reality TV.
What is it about reality TV that’s so intoxicating—or so repulsive—to so many? It certainly evokes strong reactions either way—people may love it unabashedly or love it guiltily; they may find it vapid, deeming it worthless trash and never deign to watch, or find it vapid and just not be able to look away. No matter what the reaction, one can’t deny that Reality TV has firmly planted itself in our collective psyche. The question is: Why?
St. Ignatius Loyola may have some insight for us. One of Ignatius’ core teachings is the practice of Finding God in All Things. I think the operative word in the teaching is “finding”, meaning that while the pearl of wisdom might not immediately be apparent, all experiences are an invitation to go deeper if we are willing.
But surely Ignatius wasn’t anticipating a world populated by the Kardashian sisters or the Real Housewives of Atlanta—or was he? Perhaps one answer is that these shows embody parts of ourselves that we are unwilling to admit are there—parts of ourselves that scare or repulse us so much that we need them to be externalized, embodied by someone else. That way they stay safe and “other” and never really demand us to see them as part of us.
If I have decided that Kim Kardashian is vapid and superficial and feel just a little bit better about myself because of it, I never have to look at the ways in which I, too, am vapid or superficial. If I am outraged that there is a mom who would put her 2-year-old in a beauty pageant, I never really have to acknowledge the part of myself that is insecure about my parenting because I have such a clear example of a “Really Bad Mom.”
In therapy or spiritual work, one of our jobs is to befriend those parts of ourselves we would rather reject and embrace those parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of. To do this, we must be brave enough to acknowledge that these parts of exist. I’m not saying that you should swap your meditation practice for a Jersey Shore marathon, but we can begin to see all of life as an invitation to do just this. It could be really fun.