Hobbes Would Love Reality TV
In the age of reality TV, there’s a show or competition on just about anything, with everyday people getting their 15 minutes of fame. Excluding any competitive shows, the stereotype reality shows follow “everyday” people around. Examples are Jersey Shore, Real World, and the now defunked Jon and Kate Plus 8.
I’m a reality TV junkie, and when I watch these shows, I can’t help but notice how selfish, cutthroat, and conniving people are. Yes, we know that most of the time “reality TV” isn’t all that real. It’s known to be fake, staged, and sometimes scripted (“The Hills” anyone?). However, after further examination, I think it’s quite realistic. It’s often debated on whether people are as Locke described them, or Hobbes. I argue that by watching reality TV, this question can be answered.
First of all, the amount of reality shows on air is astounding. There’s a show for everything, and it’s clear that a huge portion of the nation wants to be on TV. It’s not just “juiced-up guidos” looking to party on the Jersey Shore. There are chefs who want exposure on Food Network, celebrities trying to boost their career; and regular, yet seemingly unique families trying to open the eyes of Americans (Jon and Kate, Sister Wives). There’s a show out there targeting every type of person and there’s an excess supply of willing participants. (Watching the line outside of a local bar wind into and up a parking structure for Real World auditions proves this). Every person who signs up to be on TV, no matter the show, is proving Hobbes theory about the nature of people. They’re simply looking out for themselves to better their lives.
In Leviathan, Hobbes argues that the lifelong “perpetual and restless desire for power” is a fundamental quality shared by all humans (Wootton 149). Today, many people equate fame with power. Reality TV is seen as the easiest way to achieve said fame, at least initially. Those aspiring chefs on Food Network want fame and exposure for their restaurants and careers, and Real World cast members want fame, and Jon and Kate wanted the money, and perhaps a little exposure. All of this is for wealth and fame. These are both equated with power nowadays.
Once they’re on the show, you see how truly self-absorbed they are. In Hobbes’ state of nature, men are in constant competition with each other, and will do whatever they can to outlast the other in a power struggle. One of Hobbes’ laws is the Right of Nature, “every man’s inborn right to use whatever means available to preserve his own life.”(Wootton 160) On these reality shows, you see people act extreme to get attention so the show is aired, gets an extra season, and they get more exposure and fame, as well as more money.
Take for example, Jersey Shore. In season 2, Snooki and Jwoww started unnecessary drama by writing an anonymous note to their best friend, Sam, about her boyfriend cheating on her. Rather than just telling her what they knew, they caused massive drama around the house as Ron and Sam wondered who in the house would write it. Here’s a clip to show the drama it started. (I suggest watching through 2:10 to see the drama unfold, and skip to 3:30 to watch the fight that ensues)
This kind of drama brings in the ratings for the show, and helped get the cast exposure in magazines, entertainment news reports, and ultimately was used to increase their paychecks exponentially.
Same thing with Jon and Kate Plus 8. If you watched the show closely from the beginning, you’d notice that Kate wasn’t always screaming at Jon and belittling him. She did it occasionally, but when she did, it got major attention. Once the news reports of her being vicious started circulating, she actually got meaner, and on much more frequent basis. She found what brought in ratings, power, and fame, and went along with the act. (I believe she’s actually normal and even on Dancing With the Stars was just acting like a drama queen for the cameras to give the audience what they wanted).
Reality TV puts people in the state of nature, where man has the right “of doing anything, which in his own judgment, and reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto” (Wootton 160).
In these examples, the people used whatever means they could to preserve their “power” and fame, even if it meant hurting others in the process. They were being cutthroat, competitive, and showed no compassion for others while they climbed the ladder of success.
You can go into detail on any reality show and easily argue that people on the shows are looking out for themselves. They’re exactly as Hobbes describes people. In the end, they signed up to be on TV for some fame or money. They’ll do whatever they can to get the cameras attention as they enter Hobbes’ state of war, where it’s “every man against every man” (Wootton 159) in the quest for airtime. And what is fame or money used for anyway? It’s treated as a source of power and prestige, which is what Hobbes’ believes we are all ultimately in search for.
What do you think? Is reality TV an example of Hobbes state of nature? Can there be selfless people on reality TV and people who have limits to what they’re willing to do? Or are all reality stars looking out for themselves and will do anything for fame and money?
Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche.
Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2008. Print.