American audiences are accustomed to enjoying other people’s pain as a form of entertainment.
Instead of the formulaic sitcoms that dominated through the ’90s, television producers are opting for the cheap cast and largely static sets that comprise reality TV as we know it.
We’ve watched obese people compete to shed weight the fastest regardless of health. We’ve watched washed up celebrities try to kick drugs. We’ve even watched a group of young, orange Jersey kids launch to stardom.
However, E!, the channel that brought us such gems as Keeping up With the Kardashians and The Girls Next Door, may have finally crossed the line into absolute tastelessness.
Bridalplasty, which debuted Nov. 28, features a group of engaged women competing for a laundry list of surgical procedures.
Rather than being a show about people getting plastic surgery, such as The Swan or Extreme Makeover, the prize for every challenge is another operation leading up to their dream wedding complete with a new body.
The end of the first competition exemplifies the kind of mental state these women must be in. As the contestants rush to piece together a life-sized puzzle of themselves, the last one to make it through to the next round begins sobbing uncontrollably.
Now, after getting over the initial shock brought on by the plot, the concept and execution begin to seem almost surreal. The fierce competitiveness and cattiness of the contestants help melt away the audience’s sympathy.
One is left wondering what is wrong with these women that could bring them to this point. We can blame it on society, or on the way they were raised. But towards the end of the episode, it’s not hard to find yourself looking forward to witnessing the pain they’re bound to experience. Would we feel less entertained if we knew where these insecurities came from?
Our voyeurism would be less enjoyable if we felt an affinity for the show’s personalities.
This begs the question: are they victims or are they simply acting in a way that society views as unacceptable?
Should we as viewers feel sympathy for them or should we revel in watching them squirm (after all, they signed up for this)?
Should we impose our morals on people so eager to participate?
Hell, they’re competing for it.
There is no easy explanation for the mix of disgust and delight conjured by the ridiculousness of Bridalplasty. Even the name is so over-the-top that it’s hard to take seriously. It’s blatant about its intentions, rather than hiding them behind the “documentation” of plastic surgery.
The participants are obviously willing, even if fueled by a subconscious desire to achieve the unachievable; a desire perhaps spawned by the idealized media characters whose spotlight they have usurped.
Is it better to be immersed in images of “perfect” people playing us normal folks, or to watch the ludicrous lengths real people are willing to go to in order to reach a level of artificial beauty?
While this reality may be only slightly more “real” than sitcoms, it’s much more entertaining, perhaps because we identify on some level with their vanity but can still look down on them for expressing it so openly.
For better or worse, most viewers will feel much better about their own lives and motivations, even if it comes at the expense of another person’s dignity.
But isn’t that the point of reality TV?