Voyeurism and Reality Television

Hello all! My question for today comes out of Wallace’s discussion of voyeurism in “E Unibus Plurum”. In the beginning of the essay, Wallace says that watching television is “almost like voyeurism”, and that he has acquaintances who describe television as “a veritable deus ex machina for voyeurs” (SFT 23). He also says that a good deal of the criticism of television stems from the idea that it is turning Americans “into a nation of sweaty, slack-jawed voyeurs.” (23) The Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders defines voyeurism as a psychosexual disorder in which a person derives enjoyment from observing the sexual acts of others.¬†It also says that in order to be considered voyeurism, the urge to watch others must cause significant distress in the voyeur to be disruptive in his or her daily functioning. Wallace, however, volunteers that voyeurism through TV is different because the subjects “are not really ignorant of the fact that somebody is watching them.” (23) I would argue that he is wrong, and modern reality television, wherein people literally sign the rights to private life away in order to be filmed, and therefore watched, day and night, is still voyeurism, despite the subject’s knowledge of being observed. It seems almost everyone has a favorite reality program. I personally cannot get enough of Dance Moms and Real Housewives, and I never missed an episode of My Life on the D-List. Even though all of these programs star people who agreed to be filmed, I am still seeing more of these peoples’ actions, emotions, and relationships than any stranger has a right to. I have seen more people throw wine and suffer emotional breakdowns than I could have ever thought possible. I have seen little girls cry in their mothers’ arms as they mourn the loss of a trophy. I have seen Kathy Griffin get a pap smear on television. I am not doing it to seek sexual gratification, as the “traditional” voyeur does, and yet I cannot stop myself. When Lifetime has a Dance Moms¬†marathon scheduled, the rest of my day will inevitably be spent sitting in front of the TV, riveted. That certainly sounds like “disrupting my daily functioning” to me. So I suppose the question is, do you agree with Wallace that the knowledge of the subjects of television prevents the viewer from being a voyeur? Or does the sheer amount of private life that we as a society now witness through television bring this psychological disorder to a whole new level?

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