Cruelty in print, vicarious regret

I wanted to write about the Japanese documentary / reality television show Terrace House (on Netflix) but the post has taken too long to complete. So instead, for now, how about a brief comment on an excerpt from this conversational review of the series via the New York Times of all places. In it, the reviewers discuss their least favorite subjects in the documentary:

Yuudai is petulant and clueless and would be a nightmare to be around, but the rest of the cast rallied around how awful he was, which was fun. So I’m going to go with Taka, who is, respectfully, a coward and a waste of space.

Ohhh that’s awful… how can anyone speak so confidently about someone they don’t know? I can’t take it as a joke either. “Petulant,” “coward,” and “a waste of space” are not light-hearted, jesting insults, even between friends. From a stranger, it’s just mean. Saying “respectfully” does not make it so. And then celebrating Yuudai’s isolation from the rest of the cast as “fun?” What sick schadenfreude is that?

Though slick editing and the pressures of the spotlight mean that reality TV is never “real,” these are still real people living their real lives, not actors playing stories. Sure, they all agreed to be on film. But though the documentary cameras imitate intimacy, the audience are still a bunch of strangers. Does any member of the cast deserve such abuse from people who only catch heavily edited snippets of their lives? Does reality TV make people into psychopaths?

I’m feeling vicarious regret. Why did I even watch this?

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