Friday, April 5, 2013

Trashy Reality Show Addicts, Unite! a guest post by Tammy Kaehler.

JULIA SPENCER FLEMING: We here at JRW like Tammy Kaehler. I gave an enthusiastic blurb for her first Kate Reilly racing mystery, DEAD MAN'S SWITCH, and Hank called the second book in the series, BREAKING POINTS, "A high-octane mystery that'll keep you turning pages at top speed." 

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 addiction 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 much. 

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….

 When she's not "saying yes to the dress," you can find Tammy at her website and at three different blogs: From the Pits, Two for the Road and the Poisoned Pen PressYou can friend her on Facebook, catch her reviews at Goodreads and follow her on Twitter as @tkaehler.


  1. Reality television? At the risk of failing at the whole upward/downward social comparison thing, I have to admit that reality television is not my cup of tea . . . but I’m definitely not scoffing and I certainly don’t feel at all “smug and validated” . . . I'm a firm believer in "to each his own," especially when it comes to the vagaries of television viewing . . . .

    Now if you want to discuss the whole “cannot do without books for even twenty-four hours” thing, well, then, I’m right there with you . . . .

  2. I am not a reality TV watcher, but the book thing gets a very strong YES.
    How in the world do you have time for all you do? I'm now off to look for Dead Man's Switch. Dee

  3. Hi Tammy, I love Ice Road Truckers. Ice, snow and and big trucks. And big guys, sometimes big women, to drive them. They have to get from here to there across a wilderness of slippery white danger.

    Okay, it's not really so much that you have social comparison theory wrong... it's just that you only have one tiny part of it. Old Leon's theory of social comparison is based on individuals judging themselves in comparison to similar others in order self-evaluate. This need for conformity leads to what I call the great leveling out. Works better with isolated homogenous populations, now rare, but still being fought out in areas where differentness is devalued and very different practices are entering with immigrant populations. You might consider recent European countries' bans, or attempted bans, on Muslim women wearing the hijab in public.

    Because the conformity theory does not account for the need to be different, along with tons of other dimensions of human behavior, the theory grew to include the position that people seek out dissimilar others to compare themselves to.

    My own social theory is based on culture in transition and the lasting influence of invasion on indigenous populations, with a focus on religious tradition and traditional medicine.

    Even if you are against big trucks driving across the wilderness, Ice Road Truckers is something we can all appreciate. Snow. Ice. Big trucks. Long haul. Danger. You can root for the truckers or the ice. Doen'st matter.

  4. Sorry, ny speech-to-text is buggy tonight, and I'm using my old chopstick with Blu-Tack on the tip.

  5. Sadly, we don't have cable anymore, so I don't see a lot of this, but back in the day I was a sucker for a "What Not to Wear" marathon. And "House Hunters!" (I know, there was a whole hullabaloo about how it was decidedly NOT reality, but I chose to stick my fingers in my ears and sing, "La la la la LA laaaaaa.")

    How have I missed your books?! They combine racing and mysteries...? Two of my favorite things!! Onto the TBR pile they go.

    Reine- I laughed out loud at the idea of rooting for the ice. I've never thought of it that way and I love it!

  6. Oh, I do love you.

    Project Runway! Not to be missed.

    What Not To Wear--fabulous.

    Once, trapped in a hotel room, I wartched about fifty Restaurant Impossibles. I may be over that, now.

    I think it's the triumph of the human spirit thing..and I am a big fan of The Ugly Duckling.

    Not the reality show, the story.

    ANd I think we all love happy I think the reality shows I watch, thinking about this for the first time now, interestingly, are the ones where someone with an unnoticed talent or potential is happy in the end.

    Hmm. xoxoo

  7. First, thanks to Julia and all of the Jungle Reds for being such wonderful, supportive people. You're my heroes.

    Second, thanks to Reine for the much more thorough explanation of the social theory I ruthlessly co-opted to fit my post! We are strange creatures. And yes! I went through an Ice Road Truckers phase a couple years ago. I think it made me too tense to keep watching. (Why did I think they'd actually show something going horribly wrong?!) And I laughed too at rooting for the ice. Maybe I need to start rooting for ugly dresses for ugly (attitude) brides....

    Paulabuck, thanks for checking out my books! I always love running across other racing fans in mystery circles.

    Joan and Gram ... I promise, next post is about books = air, as in can't do without them for very long.

    Hank, xoxo to you too. I know what you mean about getting enough of one show and being done with it forever (hello, Dirty Jobs?). And yes, a large part of my enjoyment of these is the happy ending ... even in House Hunters, and certainly in the wedding dress episodes. Get to the end and daddy's crying over his little girl in a white dress? Makes me misty every time. (That's embarrassing to admit.)

    Thanks for having me here!

  8. Hi, Tammy! Thanks for taking the hit, and watching all those miserable excuses for reality. As if it has anything to do with same. However, I know plenty of people who believe everything that happens is real, and not scripted at all.

    I barely watch TV, and we have never had cable (shocking, I know). I do enjoy watching Dancing with the Stars, but only after they weed out the worst dancers. However, while visiting my daughter in Miami, I got temporarily hooked on Pawn Stars. She had to work one day of my visit, and it rained the whole time. Did you know there is a cable channel that runs that one show, all day long, one after another? That boggled my mind.

    Looking forward to Braking Points!

  9. Like Joan, I'm don't feel smug or validated...I just don't get it.
    But I do get wanting to veg out and can have a Downton or Sopranos marathon when I want to clean my office and have something on in the background. Whatever floats your boat.

    My hubby is just glad I've put I, Claudius on hiatus because the music during the opening and closing credits drove him nuts and he imagined I was up in my office palnning executions. (Da-da-da-daaaaaaaa with the snake moving over the mosaics...)

  10. Rosemary, I get your not getting it ... I feel that way about plenty of other shows. Honey Boo-Boo, anyone? Real Housewives also.

    Karen, I haven't ever tried Pawn Stars. Maybe I'm afraid to open that can of worms! A whole channel just for that???

    All of this is probably best summed up with, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio...."

  11. Not a TV watcher, in general. Basically from lack of time. I'm not a fan of what I've read of reality shows, but I figure everyone has different tastes.

    When I want to veg out, I watch craft videos. Nothing like Elizabeth Zimmerman demonstrating Three-Needle I-Cord Bind-Off, Angie Walker Maloney showing how to weave an authentic Navajo rug, or Rita Buchanan's step-by-step on spinning for large projects! Chacun a son gout!

  12. Yes, yes, to can't go without books/reading.

    I have watched Ice Road Truckers, but find my reality show choices tend to be law enforcement or medical in nature--Alaska State Troopers, Inside Combat Rescue, reruns of Trauma Life in the ER. (Could those last be related to so many years of flight/emergency nursing?) Then there's the fear factor of Ax Men--when will that out-of-control log actually destroy someone? Yes, it's the terrible car crash syndrome, but I'm also one of those who pulls over and stops to render aid.

    The guiltiest of my reality show pleasures is Lizard Lick Towing. It reminds me of the southern mindset I occasionally miss. Also reminds me of the old show, King of the Hill. I remember the first time I watched that show--I actually did laugh so hard I fell off the couch. And went to work the next day saying, "I know those people (in King of the Hill), I'm related to them."

    Hank, you know I'm another Project Runway fan. Tammy, Honey Boo-Boo's popularity is terrifying!

    Congratulations on your success, Tammy. Yet another writer to add to my TBR pile.

  13. Thanks, Diane. I'll have to look for Lizard Lick Towing ... it wins for the name alone!

    And Linda, I agree, each to his/her own. I think we can all agree we need some very different programming from time to time in order to give our brains a break!

  14. I have to say, I am totally a snob about reality TV watching...except that my youngest daughter and I have done marathon viewings of "Say Yes to the Dress" and "Pawn Stars." I love those shows, in part, I suspect, because they don't trade on anyone's embarrassment or need to ho themselves out for reality stardom.

    Pawn Stars is kind of like Antique Road Show, if the appraisers were a funny blue-collar clan living in Vegas. And Say Yes to the Dress is sweet - the brides come in with moms and friends and grooms (and brides - the show has featured several same-sex couples!) There's a tiny bit of suspense - will she find The Dress? Will it be in her budget? Everybody leaves happy.

    My only fear is that when Youngest gets engaged, she'll insist on going to Kleinfeld Bridal and dropping ten grand on a dress. Not happening, sweetheart.

  15. I knew I was going to feel guilty before this was over. I hadn't considered embarrassment.

  16. What, no love for "The Bachelor" and the other dating shows of that ilk? I love playing the game in which one of the contestants says, "I'm not here to make friends."

    There's a guy who even made yearly supercuts of reality show contestants saying, "I'm not here to make friends":

    It's brilliant!

  17. Julia, it's certainly safer for me to watch "Say Yes" since I'm smug in having only paid $250 for my (vintage!) wedding dress and since I don't have a daughter. But I agree, part of what's fun is it's the Cinderella story over and over.

    Reine, I consider JRW a safe zone--no guilt, no embarrassment. Otherwise I never could have confessed this!

    pjmorsebooks, I'll check out that video. Millionaire Matchmaker is as close as I get to dating shows, and part of what I like is that Patti insists on a two-drink minimum and no sex for the dates we see. Somehow I don't feel like they're as restrained on The Bachelor/ette, but that may be misinformation on my part. But hey, as we've noted, each to their own!

  18. Oh... Tammy... yes, of course. When you know me better you will realize embarrassment is not my usual state. I usually just say stuff and duck!

    No regrets, here... just chewing on the feeling. xoxo