Nothing Is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics

A Phenomenon Called “Humilitainment”

“There are two ways by which the spirit of a culture may be shriveled. In the first—the Orwellian—culture becomes a prison. In the second—the Huxleyan—culture becomes a burlesque. No one needs to be reminded that our world is now marred by many prison-cultures…. it makes little difference if our wardens are inspired by right- or left-wing ideologies. The gates of the prison are equally impenetrable, surveillance equally rigorous, icon-worship pervasive…. Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours…. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”— Professor Neil Postman

Donald Trump no longer needs to launch Trump TV.

He’s already the star of his own political reality show.

Americans have a voracious appetite for TV entertainment, and the Trump reality show—guest starring outraged Democrats with a newly awakened conscience for immigrants and the poor, power-hungry Republicans eager to take advantage of their return to power, and a hodgepodge of other special interest groups with dubious motives—feeds thatappetite for titillating, soap opera drama.

After all, who needs the insults, narcissism and power plays that are hallmarks of reality shows such as Celebrity Apprentice or Keeping Up with the Kardashians when you can have all that and more delivered up by the likes of Donald Trump and his cohorts?

Yet as John Lennon reminds us, “nothing is real,” especially not in the world of politics.

Much like the fabricated universe in Peter Weir’s 1998 film The Truman Show, in which a man’s life is the basis for an elaborately staged television show aimed at selling products and procuring ratings, the political scene in the United States has devolved over the years into a carefully calibrated exercise in how to manipulate, polarize, propagandize and control a population.

Indeed, Donald Trump may be the smartest move yet by the powers-that-be to keep the citizenry divided and at each other’s throats, because as long as we’re busy fighting each other, we’ll never manage to present a unified front against tyranny in any form.

This is the magic of the reality TV programming that passes for politics today.

It allows us to be distracted, entertained, occasionally a little bit outraged but overall largely uninvolved, content to remain in the viewer’s seat.

The more that is beamed at us, the more inclined we are to settle back in our comfy recliners and become passive viewers rather than active participants as unsettling, frightening events unfold.

Reality and fiction merge as everything around us becomes entertainment fodder.

We don’t even have to change the channel when the subject matter becomes too monotonous. That’s taken care of for us by the programmers (the corporate media).

For instance, before we could get too worked up over government surveillance, the programmers changed the channels on us and switched us over to breaking news about militarized police. Before our outrage could be transformed into action over police misconduct, they changed the channel once again to reports of ISIS beheadings and terrorist shootings. Before we had a chance to challenge what was staged or real, the programming switched to the 2016 presidential election.

“Living is easy with eyes closed,” says Lennon, and that’s exactly what reality TV that masquerades as American politics programs the citizenry to do: navigate the world with their eyes shut.

As long as we’re viewers, we’ll never be doers.

Studies suggest that the more reality TV people watch—and I would posit that it’s all reality TV—the more difficult it becomes to distinguish between what is real and what is carefully crafted farce.

“We the people” are watching a lot of TV.

On average, Americans spend five hours a day watching television. By the time we reach age 65, we’re watching more than 50 hours of television a week, and that number increases as we get older. And reality TV programming consistently captures the largest percentage of TV watchers every season by an almost 2-1 ratio.

This doesn’t bode well for a citizenry able to sift through masterfully-produced propaganda in order to think critically about the issues of the day, whether it’s fake news peddled by government agencies or foreign entities.

Those who watch reality shows tend to view what they see as the “norm.” Thus, those who watch shows characterized by lying, aggression and meanness not only come to see such behavior as acceptable and entertaining but also mimic the medium.

This holds true whether the reality programming is about the antics of celebrities in the White House, in the board room, or in the bedroom.

It’s a phenomenon called “humilitainment.”

A term coined by media scholars Brad Waite and Sara Booker, “humilitainment” refers to the tendency for viewers to take pleasure in someone else’s humiliation, suffering and pain.

Humilitainment” largely explains not only why American TV watchers are so fixated on reality TV programming but how American citizens, largely insulated from what is really happening in the world around them by layers of technology, entertainment, and other distractions, are being programmed to accept the brutality, surveillance and dehumanizing treatment of the American police state as things happening to other people.

The ramifications for the future of civic engagement, political discourse and self-government are incredibly depressing and demoralizing.

This not only explains how a candidate like Donald Trump with a reputation for being rude, egotistical and narcissistic could get elected, but it also says a lot about how a politician like Barack Obama—whose tenure in the White House was characterized by drone killings, a weakening of the Constitution at the expense of Americans’ civil liberties, and an expansion of the police state—could be hailed as “one of the greatest presidents of all times.”

This is what happens when an entire nation—bombarded by reality TV programming, government propaganda and entertainment news—becomes systematically desensitized and acclimated to the trappings of a government that operates by fiat and speaks in a language of force.

Ultimately, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American Peoplethe reality shows, the entertainment news, the surveillance society, the militarized police, and the political spectacles have one common objective: to keep us divided, distracted, imprisoned, and incapable of taking an active role in the business of self-government.

If “we the people” feel powerless and apathetic, it is only because we have allowed ourselves to be convinced that the duties of citizenship begin and end at the ballot box.

Marching and protests have certainly been used with great success by past movements to foment real change, but if those marches and protests are merely outpourings of discontent because a particular politician won or lost with no solid plan of action or follow-through, then what’s the point?

Martin Luther King Jr. understood that politics could never be the answer to what ailed the country. That’s why he spearheaded a movement of mass-action strategy that employed boycotts, sit-ins and marches. Yet King didn’t march against a particular politician or merely to express discontent. He marched against injustice, government corruption, war, and inequality, and he leveraged discontent with the status quo into an activist movement that transformed the face of America.

When all is said and done, it won’t matter who you voted for in the presidential election. What will matter is where you stand in the face of the injustices that continue to ravage our nation: the endless wars, the police shootings, the overcriminalization, the corruption, the graft, the roadside strip searches, the private prisons, the surveillance state, etc.

Will you tune out the reality TV show and join with your fellow citizens to push back against the real menace of the police state, or will you merely sit back and lose yourself in the political programming aimed at keeping you imprisoned in the police state?

# # # #

John W. Whitehead, Newsbud Contributing Author & Analyst,  is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. He is the president and spokesperson of the Rutherford Institute. Mr. Whitehead is the author of numerous books on a variety of legal and social issues, including A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Arkansas and a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law, and served as an officer in the United States Army from 1969 to 1971.

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  1. I never understood why lowest common denominator TV ever caught on. Where is the escapism in watching people being horrible to each other?

    We have experts telling us that the human species is naturally aggressive. So why is it so easy to herd us then?

  2. VoiceOfArabi says:

    Hello John W. Whitehead,

    Your question at the end of your article “Will you tune out the reality TV show and join with your fellow citizens to push back against the real menace of the police state, or will you …….” is similar to asking a casino customer playing a slot machine if he should quit playing, in my opinion. Here is why i came to this conclusion.

    1- Humans are social animal, and majority will follow the group(tribe), even if it is a certain death. tiny minority will not, but they will be outcast, lonely, and end up being called “crazy”
    2- Human Value system has changed recently. In the past, there was no such a thing as “free lunch”… You either worked hard in the summer (instead of enjoying the sun and playing all day), so you don’t starve in the winter, or you die. You either spend all day hunting and food gathering, or you die. Today, we have a different value system. Today, many people believe you can achieve what you want with no effort. You can lose weight without exercise, you can win millions without working, you can be a star overnight. (although it is true for a 0.01% of the population), but the perception is everyone can do it.

    So, with the above in mind, in addition to the fact that the-powers-that-shouldn’t-be spending a lot of money and time studying Human behavior, and weaknesses, they have created the perfect situation to enslave us.

    Our lives today resembles the life of a person sitting in a Vegas Casino! That person, choose to go there. That person believes he is on the right track to become a millionaire, That person knows the rule of “The House Always Wins”, That person believe he will be different, and that person believes they will walk out a winner, and then everyone will respect and admire him or her.

    Clearly, the problem is not with the Casino, The problem is with the value system of the people who walk-in to the Casino….

    We need to die of Hunger and Starvation again to re-learn our value system….

    • victor friese says:

      Um, yeah, hunger and starvation would only lead to killing, cannibalism, theft, etc… There are places close to that in the US. The only reason they are not worse is the wellfare.

      One of the real problems is that people never see any positive result from their efforts. Their efforts are always capitalized on by someone else, that’s why the US has the largest gap between the rich and the poor of any industrialized nation. If people get nothing for their effort, or as is the case with many college students nowadays, end up with lives permanently ruined because they put effort onto getting a degree, and later found out that there was no way they could afford to pay back the loans.l after graduating. Or the business owner whose business cannot compete with some big box…etc… When people are deprived of any sense of being able to achieve something, for their entire lives, they give up, and stop caring about anything and everything… until they get angry enough anyway.

  3. Timur Aydin says:

    I don’t think the powers to be wanted Trump to be elected. He just doesn’t fit the profile that the establishment wants in a candidate. He doesn’t owe the establishment anything, so he can’t be blackmailed or manipulated. And his anti war stance is in direct contrast to what the establishment tries to achieve.

    Other sources where I have read about the establishment having Trump elected base this on the fact that, if the establishment wanted Clinton to be elected, she would have been elected. The assumption is that the voting machines are all rigged to produce whatever result is desired for the ones that have control. So now that Clinton isn’t elected, that’s what the establishment must have wanted. But in reality, the electronic voting machines have been around for almost two decades in US elections and they have been widely scrutinized for any potential security issues. Other than that, the voting machines aren’t connected to the internet. Each machine’s voting results are retrieved on site and recorded, in plain view of all political party observers, just like it would have been done with conventional ballot voting.

    I think the establishment very much wanted Clinton to be elected, but the rigging was not at the voting machine level. Instead, fake news through MSM was used to manipulate voters.

    • Ralph Davis says:

      Trump is no more anti-war than O or W. He just sees China as a newer/better target than the way overexposed media marvel Vlad the Bad.

      Amerika the Great! Now, that’s Showbiz.

    • victor friese says:

      LOL. He started droning people just after he got in office and you call him antiwar?! LMFAO!!!! And he owes the establishment nothing?! How did he become a billionaire? He was born with $100 million, and maintained that level of wealth for his whole life until recently. He has been bankrupt several times. Goldman Sachs and the prison industry own him…

      OH, AND HE HANGS OUT WITH JEFFREY EPSTEIN ON HIS BLACKMAIL BONER ISLAND!!! Just like the Clinton’s and everyone else.

      Yeah, sure, they can’t blackmail Trump! *sarcasm* LOL

  4. kate gibbens says:

    I’m sure Baudrillard would have something provocative to say about this

    and about predictive programming.

  5. Mark Ribbit says:

    I solved the ‘Nothing is Real’/Reality TV problem a long time
    ago when I stopped watching TV altogether.

    What really irks me now is when I try to get out the ‘truth’ message
    to the masses via the comments section in a Canadian MSM news outlet
    and see my posts routinely ‘content disabled’ (euphemism for censored)
    by well-instructed moderators.

    • Ralph Davis says:

      Seems a lot of that going around, Mark.

      One need not go to MSMland to find it.

    • victor friese says:

      Be glad that is all they do Ribbit, they can do FAR FAR worse. Do not go to websites recommended to you by others without checking their safety somehow first. Also, get a secure DNS server. And not the google one.

  6. Russell Linz says:

    The fact is America never was as free as Mr. Whitehead imagined yes when the population was dispersed and the Government did not have the capacity for control they now have people had the illusion of self Governance.The United States has always through force controlled its citizens from eminent domain to the draft the list of Government impositions on personnel property, taxation of labor etc. I am not advocating anarchy but the simple fact is the days of returning America to what the founders planned have long passed. When the Conspiracy Theorists speculate on the New world Order they fail to realize our military is its police force and our leadership are its biggest proponents. Yes people are apathetic but I don’t see that as the problem you do the problem in this Country is our political parties are one side of the same coin.Oh there will be change coming but not in a patriotic clarion call but a instigated & organised distraction as an excuse for martial law & further erosion of what rights we have left.

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