So we thought we'd check in on Tammy, since BREAKING POINTS was launched this week. Was she touring throughout her native California? Behind the wheel, reporting for the Sports Car Club of America? Signing books until her hand cramped? (Yes.)
Turns out she was thinking about reality TV...
Confessing My Reality TV Addiction
Hello, my name is Tammy Kaehler, and I’m addicted to trashy reality television shows.
I hear you all chorusing a virtual response, thank you.
Truthfully, “addicted” might be a strong word (though isn’t denial the first sign of a problem?). I can go days at a time without watching them, it’s true (unlike books, which I can’t do without for even 24 hours, but that’s another post). But I’ll admit to a well-stocked DVR and to reality shows being my first choice when I allow myself unfettered (and unaccompanied) television time.
But I discovered there’s a good reason for my
fondness for them: social comparison theory, in which social
psychologist Leon Festinger posited that we compare ourselves to
others to evaluate our personal and social self-worth.
That seems like a blinding case of the obvious, right? (No offense to Leon.)
Doing a little digging around (thank you, Wikipedia), I learned that upward social comparison can provide inspiration to improve oneself—unless we’re comparing ourselves to the relentless depiction of the ideal in the media and feeling unequal (not as pretty as Diane Kruger, not as thin as Angelina Jolie, not as anything as Charlize Theron). In that case, the comparison can be damaging to one’s self-esteem.
Downward social comparison, when we look at those who are worse off, can be similarly positive and negative. While active downward comparison can be bad, if we’re actively denigrating others, passive downward comparison can make us feel superior or better about ourselves.
Which brings me back to reality television. Because after enough hours of this kind of intelligence-challenged television programming, I
rationalized figured out why I enjoy these shows so
First of all, after long days of managing people and projects at my day job, then writing, blogging, tweeting, facebooking, pinteresting, and answering e-mail at home for my author job … sometimes my brain needs a break. I need an absolute lack of thought, plot, and written words. I crave entertainment with zero redeeming value. (You gotta have highs and lows, am I right?)
Second, I watch some (not all) reality shows because I’m entertained by the people and stunned by what they do that I won’t (spend $20,000 on a wedding dress?). I never expect people to be as bitchy, controlling, over-the-top, or downright mean as they are on these shows—but I need to be able to write about all kinds of people, not just the people I meet, know, and expect. Tah-dah! That makes watching reality television into research!
But mostly, I watch them to be comforted by the knowledge that I’m nowhere near as terrible, hypocritical, or deluded as they are. Downward social comparison at work.
And if you scoff or look down your nose at me … realize what I’m doing for you: I’m giving you your own opportunity for downward social comparison! You can feel smug and validated that at least you’re not like that poor little author out there in Southern California who has to turn to “Say Yes to the Dress” or “Dance Moms” for validation.
But it’s cool. I own it. I love those shows, as well as “The Millionaire Matchmaker” and “What Not to Wear”—though I draw the line at one episode of “Toddlers and Tiaras” a month.
So now that I’ve bared all, do you have your own true confessions? Guilty pleasures? (Is there a real psychologist out there to tell me I got social comparison theory all wrong?) I've got a copy of my brand-new Kate Reilly racing mystery, BREAKING POINTS, for one of you!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some dresses to go say yes to….