Exhibitionist Civilization

realitytvWe live in an exhibitionist era. It’s evident everywhere, but reaches a revolting crescendo in some of the extreme “reality tv” that’s become a standard feature of what passes for “entertainment” in a decadent society.

Not all reality programming is inherently vulgar. Some is potentially beneficial. For example:


Provides reinforcement for staying on the straight and narrow.

Deadliest Catch

Teaches us that whatever we’re doing, there are some jobs we could have that are even worse.

American Idol

I don’t watch it, but my impression is it basically revolves around decent entertainment and at least one prima donna judge.

The Apprentice

Teaches us the worst boss we ever had may not have been quite as bad as we recall.

So You Think You Can Dance

I don’t watch this either, but understand it’s pretty innocuous, aside from occasional humiliation.


Learn how to survive in the wilderness, from a guy with a fantastic surname: Les Stroud.

Among the many programs I would never watch, even if you paid me: Jersey Shore, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

A show I’m curious about—but not interested enough to waste any time investigating—is Pastors of LA. Apparently, one of the featured ministers, who committed adultery and fathered a child while still married, proclaimed: “I have not preached on any platform in any church for one year! I’ve paid my penalty for my sin!” Not quite sure where he found that equation in the scriptures, but perhaps pastors of Los Angeles megachurches determine their own penances.

I can’t understand the allure of exhibitionism. Stripping down to one’s most embarrassing and offensive qualities, and parading those before an anonymous audience, is nowhere on my bucket list.

Even stranger to me than the willingness of a minority to invite public mockery and derision is the desire of relatively significant audiences to view some of these misbegotten concepts.

C.S. Lewis helps me understand the problem. In an article entitled “After Priggery—What?” he says:

We have lost the invaluable faculty of being shocked—a faculty which has hitherto almost distinguished the Man or Woman from the beast or the child.

Lewis begins the essay by condemning “priggery,” the judging of what is bad that infers the “prig” is morally superior. He also raises the question of whether or not our failure to condemn publically demeaning or destructive behaviors results in more damage to society than does the act of making moral judgments.

The illustration he uses is that of a “wicked journalist, a man who disseminates for money falsehoods calculated to produce envy, hatred, suspicion and confusion.” (There seems no shortage of such people in our world.)

Lewis says that our toleration of these malevolent influences is a terrible mistake. The following passage criticizes the fact that we actually enable such conduct by supporting it.

If we must find out what bad men are Writing, and must therefore buy their papers, and therefore enable their papers to exist, who does not see that this supposed necessity of observing the evil is just what maintains the evil? It may in general be dangerous to ignore an evil; but not if the evil is one that perishes by being ignored.*

I find Lewis’ argument applicable to the existence of all sorts of reprehensible material, beginning perhaps, with pornography. To a lesser degree, one might even consider it to apply to exhibitionist entertainment. After all, it is not profitable to viewers and it is rarely (if ever) beneficial to the participants themselves.

And thus, culture declines. Dribble by dribble. I just heard on a newscast today, literally while I was writing this post, that a major cable channel is offering a new reality program entitled “Naked Dating.” Guess what it is about. Precisely what it says. I’m sure that the voyeurs are eagerly awaiting its debut.

In a more enlightened age, society would have ostracized those who flaunted their promiscuous, antisocial, humiliating or debauched lifestyles. Today the people who receive public disapproval seem to be those who question those very behaviors.

As for me, I’m renewing my commitment to the principle suggested by C.S. Lewis. I will do my best to consistently avoid supporting the things contributing to the erosion of modesty, respect, goodness and virtue. I suspect that means I won’t be spending an undue amount of time watching these “reality” programs that too often reflect the seamier aspects of human nature.


* If you would like to read the entire essay, it is available here.

8 thoughts on “Exhibitionist Civilization

  1. Russell Ketch

    Reinforce positive behavior, the rest will perish from neglect. Shades of Skinner. But does a barrel of good apples overcome and change the bad one? Or am I just mixing metaphors?

    1. Good insight. As to your question, I don’t believe the genre is bad. It has to be judged on unique expressions. (For example, I have close Christian friends who absolutely love what some call “Christian death metal.”)

  2. I remember hearing the word “priggish” growing up and had forgotten it. Thanks for the explanation.
    I hate “reality” shows (and saw a promo for that dating one last night). The shows are cheap programing – and totally no real life. The danger is that so many kids are growing up with these things thinking they are what entertainment is supposed to be and that they show real life ( so they can behave that way, too).
    Like you say, to point out the negatives about these show, bring sneers.
    Society might be better if it returned to “every thought that goes across your head doesn’t have to come out your mouth”, “everyone doesn’t need to know everything about you”, “don’t laugh at other’s misfortunes”, and “small minds talk about small things.”
    And those like Miley Cyrus keep taking another step over the line while people just keep giving them money and attention.

    1. Valuable thoughts, as always. Ironic you mention Cyrus since I just (15 minutes ago) read a news clip about her latest embarrassment. Simulating a certain act on bended knee with a person wearing a Clinton mask. Seriously. And this on stage at a performance where there were many kids in attendance, brought there by oblivious parents.

  3. Some very good words here. I think it’s of tremendous importance to retain the factor of shock, to never grow used to all this dreadful debauchery. And sometimes that really does mean disconnecting and unplugging and just refusing to participate in a great many things. Our citizenship is in another City…

  4. Pingback: Is that Civilization as we know it? | Quenya101

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