Jules Crittenden looks at how reality TV shows impel otherwise normal people into doing bizarre things.
The beauty and genius of reality TV has always been how it launches relatively normal people … which is to say petty, conniving, weak and tantrum-prone … into utterly unreal situations and pits them against each other like lab rats. Subcategories include career-launch reality TV and socially responsible reality TV. ... Now Queer Eye’s Carson Kressley wants to help large or otherwise off-type women feel good about themselves in “How to Look Good Naked.” Laudable goal gets relatively good Herald review, points off for naked commercialism.
Jules Crittenden's observation about the compulsive power of reality TV made me wonder why, if TV could make people do good things (such as motivate fat ladies to lose weight) it wasn't necessarily the case TV could make people do bad things. In a similar vein you might believe it was historically true that the Gestapo broke World War 2 French resistance cells by torturing resistants into revealing their networks and simultaneously maintain that torture is never successful in unearthing information. How is it that people sometimes go through life holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time?
George Orwell called the process doublethink.
The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them . . . . To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.
The really scary thing about doublethink is that it might actually be necessary to maintain apparent normalcy. Henry Thoreau famously observed that people live lives of "quiet desperation". Perhaps we also live lives of chronic contradiction. Yet somehow we manage. Psychologists have theorized that people create new ideas in order to reduce the amount of cognitive dissonance in their lives.
Social psychologist Leon Festinger first proposed the theory in 1957 after the publication of his book When Prophecy Fails, observing the counterintuitive belief persistence of members of a UFO doomsday cult and their increased proselytization after the leader's prophecy failed. The failed message of earth's destruction, purportedly sent by aliens to a woman in 1956, became a disconfirmed expectancy that increased dissonance between cognitions, thereby causing most members of the impromptu cult to lessen the dissonance by accepting a new prophecy: that the aliens had instead spared the planet for their sake.
We perpetually find ourselves caught in our own mental traps and just as frequently burrow out. Are the new tunnels any good? What's really interesting to consider is whether the process of creating new rationalizations or ways of forgetting in order to maintain an intellectual house divided against itself is in some sense a creative engine. It's certainly an unconscious way of evading binary logic.