aggression, well-being and reality TV


Some years ago, William M Bukowski and Maurissa Abecassis wrote an interesting essay on aggressiveness and its relationship with adaptation. In it, they comment on the appeal of reality TV. The points still stand, I think. They wrote:

“The complexity of the association between aggression and well-being can be seen in places other than the research studies of social scientists. One of these is the ubiquitous domain of pop culture. …Consider for example, the adolescent fondness for competitive reality television programs. In the past 5 years, teenage (and adult) audiences swarmed like locusts to shows where contestants stepped on each other, sometimes literally, to see who could survive, avoid being fired, or get the brass ring that holds the keys to the executive office. One could charitably imagine that the attraction of these shows derived from their postmodernist application of an ironic stance intended to expose the fundamental and inherent flaws of the dog-eat-dog sensibility of the capitalist system. Certainly the use of satire as a form of social commentary has always drawn attention. Nevertheless, the magnetic power of these shows appears to be due to their depiction, albeit exaggerated, of the subtle and not-so-subtle competitive processes that underlie the dynamics of social groups and interpersonal relationships. Perhaps the adolescents (of all ages!) who make up the audiences of these shows see the competitive and multidimensionally aggressive acts of the contestants/participants as very real manifestations of the Darwinian nature of social experience in the peer group. These shows offer viewers an “insider perspective” about how contestants truly feel about one [-p.200] another, their negative feelings and views, and their plans for developing alliances, and fostering doubt and rumor about rivals and the development of planned aggressions toward housemates or challengers. Viewers see how contestants reason, manage, and manipulate feelings and relationships with others to insure their continued survival. To win at these games, one must show competence, social skill, aggression, manipulation, and assertiveness when needed, while still being liked or respected by competitors. The link between adaptation and aggression is clearly evident in these shows.” (pp.199-200)

Ref: William M Bukowski and Maurissa Abecassis (2007) self, other, and aggression: the never-ending search for the roots of adaptation. Pp.185-205 in Aggression and Adaptation. The bright side to bad behaviour. Harley, P, Little T, Rodkin P. LEA Publishers London


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