Who do we love to hate and what can we learn from them?
One moment: a frumpy, uni-browed, Scotswoman stands at a mic to sing for an audibly disapproving and skeptical audience. It’s not even clear as to why she would leave her cave, much less be so audacious as to waste ninety, precious seconds of their time. But then, as if heaven itself had opened, a voice erupts from deep within her. After catching its breath, the audience roars with applause. Ah yes, now they can celebrate her.
The Susan Boyle moment is awfully rare though. The rest of the time the ogres and bush babies assure us of our prejudice, leave the stage, and go back to Appalachia or wherever it is they come from. It’s unfortunate but true, they’ve got to know how ridiculous they are. The only alternative is to have no standard for excellence. Besides, if we don’t stop them how many more freaks will show up the next round?
We love when the losers make good, don’t we? We rally behind them when success is theirs for the taking. On the Biggest Loser (or as Dr. House calls it, America’s Fattest Fatty), we watch a fleet of morbidly obese people grunt and groan their way from voluminous to victorious. We wince when the trainers get in their faces yelling and spouting profanity, tearing them down a la “drill sergeant style” but it has to be done, no? After all, these are matters of life and death. It may even be said that the trainers practice tough love. They care enough to rip the contestants to shreds. Pandering to their emotions has served only to multiply the problem. The staggering success of the show is not to be overlooked. By its methods, dozens of contestants have defeated their monstrous BMIs and thousands of others have been motivated to follow suit and get it together.
I say, bravo. This national phenomenon effects impact much heavier than total pounds lost. Still, I cannot help but wonder what happens to those who fail to overcome, those who despite their best efforts literally remain big losers. Don’t be ignorant, not everyone who is fat is so because they lack willpower. Many of them have endocrine diseases, Cushings syndrome for example, which exist as precipitating factors of weight gain and the inability to lose weight. Similarly, those talent show audition “wackos” likely have mental illness, evidenced by their ever-present delusions of grandeur.
These people are sick, right? Who mocks someone like that? I have. I would never ridicule a stage-4 cancer patient or a mentally retarded person. Surely, this is different, except it’s not. I don’t suppose it would make for very good television to show someone who sucks at life season after season without progress. We like to reserve those people for special interest stories and episodes of Extreme Makeover. But those people aren’t so compliant, they won’t stay put. Oh no, they rudely interject themselves into my actual reality, into my workplace, into my neighborhood, and into my church.
If I cannot manage to be nice to these outcasts when separated by the glass of my TV screen I know I am even less polite when I have to deal with them directly. If I can barely tolerate their imperfections in short segments I am unlikely to take the time to get to know them. I really should though because these are the kind of people Christ was most concerned about. I’ve said all of this as if I do them a favor by reaching out. It’s more likely the other way around. The loser’s standby retort, “Who are you to judge me?” falls flat before panelists, but in my ear the question aches. Who am I to judge them?
I am thankful for those people who tolerate me and even more for those who love me regardless of my incompetence, neurosis, and sin. A major concern of reality programming has been that the quick brush of fame and the public scrutiny that come with it are more than some contestants can handle. I don’t know that I could handle it. Susan Boyle couldn’t. The genre doesn’t innocently show what is, it aggravates the conditions. So where crazy pre-exists, look out. Without the people who support me, I’d likely be dreaming an impossible dream, running headlong into a psych ward, and having not the first clue.
The freak on TV really could be me. I don’t want it to be but the thought is as awe-inspiring as it is scary.