Monday, October 18, 2004


Seeking to capitalize on the recent trend of business-based reality shows such as The Apprentice, Fox, always a good barometer of current strategies for inflaming reactionaries and catering to insecurity while exacerbating it, has concocted a show called My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss, in which a handful of young, attractive, and, most important, Ivy League trained contestants are fooled into thinking they are competing for an important position in a company when in fact the whole thing is rigged to allow the audience watch them humiliate themselves in a variety of ways. The surface appeal is obvious: cater to the bread-and-butter American hatred and suspicion of intellectuals by revealling just what cynical, brown-nosing phonies they are. The anti-intellectual viewer gets to attach vicariously to the mean-spirited moron who bosses the ivy Leaguers around, which likely feels like sweet revenge for that species of conservative who feels bossed around and scorned by some alleged Northeastern liberal elite.

The subtler appeal is that it confirms for the Fox watcher that the kind of ambition and aspiration embodied by Ivy Leaguers is actually a fraud. So it peddles self-satisfaction to the viewer, teaching him that he's actually smarter than these hoity-toity brainiacs just by watching TV, which puts him on the side of those who are rigging the game instead of foolishly playing by its rules. They were right not to worry about college, to worry about amassing any kind of wealth or power in society; much better to laugh at those who try, those who ultimately boss them, and define the limits that outline their own possibilities. The show gives a false sense of power to those who accept powerlessness and solace themselves by being masters of the channel changer for their TV sets instead.

But its most persuasive appeal is likely that many people know the feeling of applying for jobs that don't seem to really exist, or the absurd arbitrariness of the job market in our alleged meritocracy. People already believe that the system is rigged, and these sorts of "reality shows" secure their realism by parading those rigging mechanisms before the viewer's eyes. This in turn authorizes a kind of anti-ethics: the game is fixed so no rules apply; those who play by the rules fail to understand their real significance as filters weeding out those insufficiently ruthless to supercede them.

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