In the readings for this week, the question of culture and culture’s influence on society is addressed. Benjamin’s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” especially had me thinking of reproducible art and specifically Reality T.V.. Sure, people look at me quizzically when I tell them that I watch “Jersey Shore” because they think that just because I am in school studying for a PhD in literature, that I don’t like my televisual pleasures. In answer to that, I submit Cornel West’s view on the place for pleasure in life, which can be seen here:

“I’m a Christian, but I’m not a puritan; I believe aesthetic pleasure has its place”

My question is: is T.V. art? TV has shows that tell stories, that engage the mind, that make us examine our lives. Even the most base show (like Jersey Shore) is a reminder of the society we live in, and it also holds up a mirror to ourselves. Which one of us has not drank too much and made a fool of ourselves, or wished we could live on a beachfront property with our friends without paying rent, or thought about forgetting the life of the mind for the life of the heathen and pursuers of fleshly pleasures?

But is a show like “Jersey Shore” the most evil part of “the culture industry” that Horkheimer and Ardono discuss? Reality TV present the audience with the idea that “Real life is becoming indistinguishable from the movies” (1113), though in this case, from TV (and hasn’t TV always tried to capture “real life”? A sit-com is, after all, supposed to be our lives on screen, and when The Beaver does something wrong and is punished by his dad (the Cleaver–whoah! Cleaver, and the specter of Freud is always with us), I am reminded of doing something wrong and being punished by my parents). In reality TV, what we see is the worst part of ourselves, usually. Furthermore, is reality TV the passive acceptance of “art” that H and A describe?:

“[…]no scope is left for imagination. Those who are so absorbed by the world of the movies [reality TV]–by its images, gestures, and words–that they are unable to supply what really makes it a world, do not have to dwell on particular points of its mechanics during screening” (1114).

H and A are concerned that the culture industry is making its consumers passive. Furthermore, H and A make the distinction that good art struggles with identity and that “…inferior art has always relied on its similarity with others–on a surrogate identity” (1115), and this is what reality TV is–it is a art form founded on a surrogate identity (regular TV). I think this is an issue that requires much more ink than a 400 word blog post because I would argue that reality TV is precisely the passive entertainment that H and A discuss; that reality TV is holding up the example of “real” life that is not very real, which makes people want to emulate these “real people” in the worst possible ways. Not in the way that I watch this show in order to be able to write a post about it. But the trick is to engage in televisual pleasure and be aware of the ideology subtly being conveyed.

Furthermore, I believe that Benjamin can address reality TV as well, even if Benjamin is sounding a little to essentialist for my taste.

Benjamin is concerned with the “aura” of the work of art, stating that this loss of aura is because of two circumstances: 1) “The desire of present-day masses to “get closer” to things spacially and humanly, and their equally passionate concern for overcoming each thing’s uniqueness by assimilating it as a reproduction” (1055)– and this is seen in reality TV because, is not reality TV precisely this desire to “get closer” to what it is we see on TV. This is what H and A talk about when they discuss the ideal of the typist that the audience can relate to as a person who “made it”- which works to both, on the one hand, make it seem that anyone can make it, but, on the other hand, show just how far away that ideal is. However, with reality TV, this gap is lessoned. This is “real people” that one watches on TV, and the thought is, why not me? All the more reason that this is so popular.

I have more to say about all this, but now my thoughts are rambling and I need to think this out better.