This weekend, TLC — which no longer has anything to do with learning, and everything to do with cruelty to people — will debut its new reality series, “Geek Love,” which follows the speed-dating scene among sci-fi dorks at various Comic-Con type conventions. Basically, it’s a window into a world of lonely desperate people searching for a connection beyond what they get from their television sets and action figures. It’s an incredibly easy premise to make fun of, and of course, the overriding temptation is to point and laugh at the overweight geeks with their Chewbacca mating calls and homely geek women wielding light sabers.
But that’s the point, isn’t it? That’s exactly what they want. They want us to point and laugh at the misfortune of others, which serves a dual purpose: It boosts our own egos by comparison, and it boosts the profits of the cable networks that exploit the fringes. It’s mean-spirited television gawkery. Of course, “Geek Love” is not the first of its kind; it’s simply the latest in a series of reality shows designed to elicit our mockery and mean-spirited derision. After the jump, we’ll examine four more reality shows that prey upon our collective schaudenfreude.
Virgin Diaries: How can you not make fun of this show? It’s about 30-year-old virgins who are completely and hilariously clueless about sex! Of course, TLC insists that they’re not exploiting these virgins; they’re celebrating them! “A lot of stories about later in life virgins talk about it like a problem. We want to show that this is something that can be celebrated.” Right. Because when I see the GIF below, my first instinct is to celebrate the love of two people that have finally found one another and will bask in the joy of their simultaneous de-flowerment. Uh huh.
Toddlers and Tiaras: “Toddlers and Tiaras” is perhaps the most cruel of all these reality shows because it takes pre-adolescent girls and subjects them to our collective judgement. These girls — five or six years old — aren’t allowed to be “girls,” they’re infantalized women buried in three inches of pancake make up and dolled up to look like American geishas. Why? So their selfish mothers can feel good about themselves? What do we get out of it? Security in the knowledge that we’re not as horrible as the parents, who scream at their daughters for having fat arms or for eating too much junk food. And, of course, these poor girls are going to grow up to be just like their despicable mothers.
The Kardashians: It’s one thing to exploit the lives of geeks, virgins, over-populaters or even the obese. But I think it crosses the line when you build a show around mentally retarded people. That’s low, even by reality show standards. Those poor women; they can barely string a coherent sentence together, and I’m pretty sure they’d get their asses handed to them by Forrest Gump in a game of Chutes and Ladders (“What’s a chute?”). Yet, we laugh and point at these mentally impaired celebutards who are forced into Botox treatments and plastic surgery whenever they are disfigured by wrinkles and laugh lines. The sad sisters are even forced to share a limited number of brain cells. Moreover, no one will love the sad things; their husbands keep leaving them. And we, the viewer, we point, and we laugh, as we watch these unfortunate brain damaged women try to navigate complex obstacles, like stairs, or face difficult questions, like which shoe goes on the left foot, and which goes on the right.