Does Reality TV Reflect a Downward Intelligence Spiral?

Dumbing Down – to lower the level of difficulty and the intellectual content of (as a textbook); to lower the general level of intelligence ; statement of truth about real cultural trends in education and culture.
(Dictionary definitions)

The QuipperyWe’re kind of smug here in Canada – we like to think we’re “different” than Americans. And, in many ways, happily, we are. But, unhappily, we’re working hard to change that. I’m thinking specifically about what I refer to as the “Dumbing Down” of America.

One example of “Dumbing Down” would have to be the popularity of Reality TV programs. I’m thinking specifically of “Wipeout”. I’ve never watched it, but our little local paper describes it thus: “…draws humour from the different ways huge objects knock contestants into a moat.” I don’t quite understand why anyone would want to be a contestant, nor why that would be funny to viewers. Even more disconcerting is the fact that Canadians can now compete in “Wipeout Canada.”

Our little newspaper goes on to profile a local lady who was selected to be on this show. She wanted to do this so that she could be cool in the eyes of her two sons, who both love the show. Now, I can see why two pre-teen boys find humour in this type of show. I have grandsons. I know what they think is funny. The perplexing part is why a mother would think she has to let herself be the object of the humour.

I have to give the lady due credit though. She had to pluck up the nerve to fly to Argentina (where the show is filmed), overcome her fear of extreme heights, and get used to having a TV camera jammed in her face. It was all likely quite an experience.

It’s not that I am totally against Reality TV. When we lived in the UK, we were big fans of a program called Scrapheap Challenge. It featured two teams who attempted to construct a machine that would achieve a particular objective. The time limit to do this was 10 hours, and the location was in a scrapheap. The Car Guy absolutely coveted the scrapheap.

The Scrapheap Challenges varied from week to week, but each one required both mechanical and engineering knowledge. The two teams would invariably approach the challenge from a different direction. The show host, as an aside, would explain the principles involved. It was quite educational, and certainly entertaining. And very British, which is usually quite different than anything initiated in America. On the whole, the Brits don’t seem to Dumb things Down as much.

Speaking of Not so Dumb TV, Canada is home to an excellent series called Murdoch Mysteries. Set in Toronto in the late 1800’s, the murder mystery stories invariably introduce inventions and ideas that were making their debut at that time, and alludes to how they might be used in the future. My very favourite was an episode that involved a dangerous killing machine that sent out microwaves. A Toronto Constable by the name of George conjectured that perhaps these microwaves could be used for more benign things, like cooking potatoes. Inspector Murdoch replied that this wouldn’t be very practical because the machine that produced the microwaves filled an entire room. George responded that, while that might be true, homes of the future might have one entire room that was used just to cook potatoes with a microwave machine.

Apart from the fact that someone dies in each show, I think I would rather have my grandchildren watch Murdoch than Wipeout…

2 thoughts on “Does Reality TV Reflect a Downward Intelligence Spiral?

  1. I agree with you totally. When did quality programs on tv disappear? Maybe we have “dumbed down” so much in the last few years that there’s no place to go but up! Let’s hope. I think most of us crave some intelligent television but the networks are busy saving (making?) money by putting on so-called reality shows. I’ll have to tune into Murdock Mysteries.

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    1. Hi Judy – With so many networks now, I suppose the only way they can fill in all that time is with budget saving reality shows. Fortunately there are still a few really great programs being made!

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