I spent a good number of my playtime hours last summer watching “reality” television and Bollywood movies. Usually back to back: a little “Paradise Hotel,” a little “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” and a whole lot of subtitles and crying. And I am not ashamed to admit I loved every second of these viewing experiences. I loved every cheesy profession of love or loyalty, every musical number, every kissing-spree montage (especially the one they showed right after the hotel whore swore to her longtime boyfriend that she’d only locked lips with one PH boy – dramatic irony at its finest), every indoor close-up of Hrithik Roshan in which his hair billowed as if caught in a mysterious indoor breeze or the path of a large stationary fan placed just off-camera.

Mira Levitan

Massive structural differences aside, PH and K3G occupy similar spaces in the entertainment world. Both are products of huge profit-driven industries and both appeal to our most basic human interest: the interpersonal relationship and the many ways in which it can go horribly, horribly wrong. Critics roll their eyes at the strict adherence of each to its genre’s conventions and resulting relative predictability, but fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

I suppose there is one other stand-out similarity between “reality” TV and Bollywood fare, and believe it or not, this is something they share with science fiction, Starbucks, pop music, chain restaurants and mystery novels. Something about their mass appeal makes people hate them.

I’m not trying to suggest that some people don’t loathe “reality” TV because watching it for more than 10 seconds at a time makes them want to reach right through the screen and throttle the next cast member to say “playing the game” with a straight face, or that some people don’t scorn Starbucks because Starbucks coffee tastes remarkably like freshly burnt rubber. These are valid complaints. What’s missing from them is the word, “hate.” It takes something very special to elicit active hate from otherwise laid-back individuals – especially for something as benign as a TV show or a song or a double tall mocha – and a quick conversation with any given hater is all it takes to see what that special something is: snobbery.

Yes, the true pop-cultural haters are nothing but a bunch of stuck-up sourpusses, a humorless band of elitists who insist that nothing good is ever popular, that nothing popular is ever good. And they are everywhere. You’ll find them in every facet of life, from the literary (“Oh my God, is that a Stephen King novel? Don’t you realize that William Faulkner exists, you poor slob??) to the culinary (“Excuse me, did you just say Jimmy John’s sandwiches were delicious? But they use white bread and pre-sliced meat! Don’t you have taste buds?”).

They’re expert martyrs, too, perfectly capable of questioning your taste and attacking your character in the same breath. They’ll tell you you’re not allowed to continue to like what you once liked if too many other people now like it. I hate to keep coming back to Starbucks (mmm … burnt rubber), but say you happened to like Starbucks coffee. If you lived in Seattle in the ’70s and that was the case, fine; it was a successful local business back then, God bless it. But no more. Shop there now – i.e. drink the coffee you have been enjoying for the past 30 years – and you’re a selfish, corporation-lovin’, homogeny-pushin’ sellout. You lose. If you had any kind of moral backbone whatsoever, you’d buy coffee from the little coffee shop across town – the one that serves the coffee you don’t like – so that others will have a choice.

I think this reasoning is self-evidently ridiculous. But that is a side issue.

What I suspect is really going on with our friends the snobs is that they – like the adolescent tormentors they are trying so desperately to move past in their minds – are so helplessly concerned with being the coolest of the cool that they’ve forgotten how to have fun. They’ll never be able to point and laugh at their own silly problems (the lies they’ve told and been told, the stupid things they’ve said in the presence of witnesses) as re-inacted in prime-time by “real” people on tropical islands. They’ll never appreciate brain candy. The rest of us should pity them, but never judge. After all, there is no accounting for taste.

Henretty can be reached at ahenrett@umich.edu.


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