The earth is flat.
Climate change isn’t real.
Donald Trump respects women more than anybody.
There are people who not only believe these statements, but also defend them as truths. There are photos of a disc-like earth floating in space all over the Internet. Conspiracy theorists speculate that the earth is in fact, not round and that NASA has been fooling us all along.
There are people, including successful politicians who state that climate change hasn’t been proven, even though it has, time and time again. And even if it is real, it’s not as bad as we think, even though it’s much worse than we can even imagine.
There are people who believe Donald Trump respects women, even though there is ample evidence in his own words that he doesn’t. These same people would say that this evidence is “fake news” or “locker room talk.”
Yesterday Kelly Ann Conway introduced the term “alternative facts.” This term is stunning in it’s un-apologetic nature, shocking to say the least. However, this is a thread that has been carefully woven through our culture for some time now. This division that we are experiencing, is in part due to out willingness to buy into an alternative reality, to accept spin as fact, and allow ourselves to reward or even worship those who exploit our greatest fears. We are upside down, the blood rushing to our heads, unable to see or think clearly.
This isn’t the first time I’ve felt disoriented, where my instincts and what I know to be true were challenged by propaganda in pop culture. Even though I grew up in the public eye, I was taught to never use my budding sexuality to get ahead in my career. Believe me, I had plenty of chances to do this, but I knew that in the long run, I wanted to be respected for an actual skill and cheating to get ahead would only result in me botching an opportunity I wasn’t quite ready for. It was important to me to be legit, to be validated by my peers because of my dedication and dare I say…talent.
Then Paris Hilton came on the scene, a socialite who became a media sensation after a sex tape was released in 2003. Paris went on to star in a reality show and suddenly she was everywhere. The sex tape created a platform for her public persona instead of damaging her reputation like I so naively thought it would. In my immediate circle, I would hear phrases like, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” My head was spinning. It didn’t add up. For a moment, Paris had an opportunity to turn this media frenzy around and respond in a classy way, but instead she resumed the “dumb blonde” act and began selling us products.
I didn’t think this type of celebrity would become the new normal, but then in 2007, a sex tape of Kim Kardashian was released, and Keeping Up With The Kardashians became the most successful reality show on television. This whole scenario seemed eerily familiar. To do this day, Paris Hilton takes credit for Kim Kardashian’s fame. Kim worked as a closet organizer for Hilton and was introduced to the world via Hilton’s photos of Kardashian…or so Hilton claims.
Around this time, there was a notion in the industry that Reality TV wouldn’t last. Five years maybe, ten at the most. It had become what some thought to be an alternative to soap operas, the same heightened drama at a third of the price. Production companies were able to hire cheap labor (regular folk) and manipulate their lives to create the same type of love triangles and cliffhangers that made soap operas so addicting. Except these weren’t trained actors who knew how to brush off an emotional scene at the end of the day, these were real marriages and friendships that blew up right before our eyes. Their pain was documented and sold to us as entertainment.
Reality TV began to satisfy all of our voyeuristic tendencies and provide an escape from our own flawed experiences. It almost became a joke how many reality TV marriages ended in divorce after doing a reality show. But it wasn’t a joke; the drama we scarfed down like junk food was their actual fractured lives. Suddenly reality TV stars were on the cover of magazines and were as famous as Academy Award nominated actors. Soon, there was almost no difference between an actor who was playing a role, and a reality star letting cameras into their homes. Reality TV became an alternate reality. We went from seeing it as mindless entertainment to actually caring if a couple stayed together after The Bachelor had aired.
The TV show Unreal does an excellent job of depicting what goes on behind the scenes of a Reality TV show. Sara Gertrude Shapiro, a former producer of The Bachelor, created the scripted one hour drama for Lifetime. The whole point of Unreal is to show that reality shows AREN’T REAL, hence the title of the show. The producers, who are essentially writers, manipulate each “character” for maximum ratings, which depend on outlandish situations and polarizing individuals. The people who are on the show for legit reasons (to find love) are caught up in making a scene and pushing the envelope in order to further themselves in the competition. They are so desperate for their fifteen minutes of fame that they almost forget why they are there in the first place. They become puppets of the ultimate spin-doctor.
In 2005, I wrote in my journal, “I don’t know how to raise a daughter in a world where Paris Hilton becomes famous as a result of a sex tape.” In 2016, after finding out that I was pregnant with a boy, I wrote in my journal, “I don’t know how to raise a son in a world where Donald Trump is rewarded with the Presidency after boasting about grabbing women by the pussy.” I find it ironic that Paris Hilton got her start as a teenage model at Trump Model Management. And that both Hilton and Trump were able to capitalize on tapes (one video and one audio) that were sexually exploitive in nature.
Is there a pattern here and what is our role in all of this? How did we get to a place where fact is fiction and reality is scripted manipulation? Here in the upside down, we are pitted against each other in a competition of survival of the fittest. Yet, there is something we all possess that can stop the world from spinning and our convictions from being turned inside out. Our intuition and our ability to be held accountable can really ground us and help us to find a way forward. Instead of doubling down on a lie, why not take the time to unpack the problem and study how we got here? I admit it’s painful. I admit I’m part of the problem. I’ve watched Keeping Up With The Kardashians and bought US Weekly to entertain myself on a short flight.
But here we are… with Reality TV, and alternative facts. With our focus on why Brad and Angelina broke up, while science is being ignored and diminished. With the free press being threatened. With a reality star as our President.
This isn’t about taking sides. It’s about using our own eyes, and ears, and instincts to determine what is real and what is the truth. To able to sift through all the noise and know who you are what you stand for. Some say “celebrities shouldn’t be political” or that we should shut up and stick to our day job. Yet, they look to celebrities for everything else; for health and wellness tips, for relationship advice, for how to take care of their families. Consider for a moment, that our need to consume and escape has impaired our ability to live in our own reality. Imagine a different option, where we are grounded and aware, and aren’t willing to let someone else control the narrative for us. Where we live in our own reality, even though it’s uncomfortable at times, and can determine the difference between truth and spin.
The earth is round.
Climate change is real.
Donald Trump is President of the United States.
But don’t take my word for it.