Leave Snooki’s Baby Alone

Reality shows seduce us into snarkiness. That makes society—and Philly—more dangerous.

What the world needs now is … more hate? Vitriol has become so socially acceptable, so expected, that not only are we more tolerant to it, we expect and celebrate it. Scorn is the norm.

“Hate watching” is the term applied to watching TV shows, often in groups, just to mock them, to revel in just how horrible they are. Emily Nussbaum is often given credit for coining the term in The New Yorker. What is most interesting here is this plot twist:  She wrote the piece on hate watching as an admission of being initially wrong in her positive review of the television show, Smash. She admits to now having a Smash addiction.

I feel compelled to admit something here—maybe Nussbam has given me the courage to be honest, or maybe I am trying to stay in touch with my own true feelings, but, I started watching The Newsroom after the season was over and I like it. I see the schmaltz, I see the sexism, I see the pretension, but…I like it. I have two episodes left and I’m saving them as special treats to myself. I was embarrassed, when clicking around and thinking about this post, to see that The Newsroom is in fact, one of the shows people love to hate, but it’s been renewed for a second season. Sigh.

Hatred toward reality shows might get more complicated. Some people call their love of certain reality shows a guilty pleasure: Rather than watching something due to an empathetic arc with the protagonist(s), viewers watch because they hate the characters. (I am going to use the term “characters” here because, well, um…let’s face it, they are.) A very important aspect of this kind of hating is that we are given full permission, and in fact are encouraged, to hate these characters, no matter how young, sad, drunk , unformed, or old they are.

For example: The week Snooki had her baby, both Talk Soup and Chelsea Lately ran the same joke: Chelsea and Joel McHale said they had procured first video footage of the baby, but then showed the infamous video of the two-year old Indonesian boy blowing smoke rings. Even a two-day old baby is fair game.

All bets are off when it comes to mocking reality television stars, but I have one primary issue (and a gazillion smaller ones): Snark is easy. Snarking on addicts, teenagers, and other people you consider yourself “better than” does not make you smarter than them, it just makes you snarky, which is a skill most of us perfect in middle school. It’s easy.

We all know that these kinds of shows have a primary service—they make us feel better about ourselves. In fact, maybe I shouldn’t think of it as “Hate TV” but as “Superiority TV” or even “Help-Me-Battle-My-Own Insecurities TV” Reality TV shows propagate the same gang mentality that hate crimes do. We are safely tucked into the warm blanket of a crowd, again, a place we learned to like since middle school.

Gang mentality gives us the safety of anonymity as well as the strength of the group—if I call out a derisive term, who’s to say it was me who said it? I cannot even knick the surface of that virtually (pun intended) limitless well of hate on the Internet. The act of bashing online has garnered an entire lexicon of new words:  Trolling, flaming, anonymizer, bash board, happy slapping, and so on. It’s too much and it’s nothing to joke about: We have lost count of teen suicides due to cyberbullying.

I think our tolerance for hate has made a difference in how we treat each other.

I feel like I’m seeing more and more people yelling into their cell phones at other people, more people fighting in the street. On train platforms and walking down the sidewalk, on campus and in Center City, people just seem very, very angry with whoever they’re talking to and, in their passion, also seem to have no sense that everyone around them can hear them too.

A few weeks ago, I was at 33rd and Market and saw a young man arguing with a young woman. At first, I thought maybe they were just being playful with each other. As I got closer I saw that she was louder than him, but he was incessant and was attempting to maneuver her down the steps of the trolley station. I thought of John Quinones’s “What Would You Do” segments, but to be honest, I was afraid to intervene physically, and that’s what it had come to—he was dragging her down the steps, and she was now screaming.

I panicked. I saw a woman in a uniform just a few feet from me and put my hand on her arm as I said, “Could you do something?”

She shook me off and stepped back with nothing but disgust. I noticed now that she was not a police officer but a P.P.A. meter reader. She snarled at me, and said, “You can call the police as easy I can.” The girl was now out of sight but we could still hear her screaming. The meter reader seemed unaffected by the fighting couple, and solely focused on her contempt for me.

I don’t even know how many more seconds I wasted just staring at this PPA agent and wondering why she was just so mean. I called the police, and it took so long to get transferred to the right SEPTA security officials that by the time I got through, I felt like I was making the call more for my sake than for the screaming girl.