When Anthony Zimmer ’07 hears the familiar words “I don’t want to wait for our lives to be over,” he stops what he is doing, walks into the common room and joins two of his suitemates for the night’s DVD session of “Dawson’s Creek.” Munching on pizza or Chinese food, Zimmer and his suitemates update themselves on the characters’ latest angst and love interests.
“It’s a continuing drama that never ends,” Zimmer said. “Girlfriends change; parents divorce. At the end of each episode you keep wanting to know what happens next.”
Zimmer, however, is not the only Yalie who admits to religiously making time for the “guilty pleasure” of watching purely entertaining television. The same students who take a break from Greek philosophy only to catch a CNN update may also be the ones who are secretly crossing their fingers for the reunion of Ryan and Marissa on Fox’s “The OC.” For one, two or seven nights a week, these students take a time out to join the masses tuning in to sappy teen dramas, daytime talk shows or reality TV.
Emily Drilling ’05 makes no apologies; she is a fan of “America’s Next Top Model,” a reality program on which aspiring models are judged by a panel and eliminated from the competition one by one. Each episode features photo shoots, as well as the interactions — mostly catfights — among models that are caught on camera.
“It’s the epitome of what people say is bad about our society in terms of critiquing girls based on their bodies,” she said.
But the models’ shameless obsession with beauty is actually what attracts Drilling to the show.
“My friends and I can joke around about it, because we know that that type of image doesn’t affect us,” she said. “It’s a shock to see these people who buy into this model image.”
For Drilling, “America’s Next Top Model” is a social ritual. She and her friends gather in front of the television every Wednesday night, chatting as they watch. Each roots for her favorite model.
While Drilling acknowledges the show’s silliness, she said she feels no need to justify herself for watching it; having fun is reason enough.
“The TV is there for entertainment,” she said. “If you’re watching for educational value or quality programming, then you wouldn’t find [it] entertaining.”
For Zimmer, who has begun to watch “Dawson’s Creek” on DVD three to four times a week, watching teen television drama is not only entertaining but also socially strategic.
“It’s a good conversation topic with girls,” Zimmer said. “Somehow talking about it appeals to them — that a guy could watch a deep show and like deep characters.”
Zimmer also has a weakness for “The OC,” which he called a dumbed-down “sitcom-like” version of Dawson’s Creek. With many other loyal fans, “The OC” is easily the most popular of current teen melodramas.
Sappy dramas, however, are only one part of “low-brow” television. Reality TV, with a medley of islands, weddings, lies and midgets, has recently taken the country by storm. Some have cited it as a symbol of the degradation of American culture.
“I don’t watch that nonsense,” Andrew Dowe ’08 said. “They basically find a group of specific types of people and put them together in situations that create the most drama and mindless humor.”
And besides the drama of the teen soap opera and the suspense of the reality competitions, a third category often associated with less-than-scholarly programming is the traditional daytime talk show, on which guests discuss their problems in flurries of bleeps and the occasional airborne chair.
“Maury Povich” fan Allena Rouse ’08 said she watches “purely for entertainment.” Once or twice a week, usually while doing homework or reading the newspaper, she indulges in the “hilarious” overreactions of the guests as they learn the results of paternity tests or are informed that their partners have cheated on them with their relatives. Though she does not take the show seriously, Rouse believes that people who do not watch it tend to unfairly label it as low-quality.
“It’s not Oprah, but it’s not Jerry Springer,” she said. “It does help people. It’s not just trailer trash fighting every day.”
Dan O’Brien ’08, however, said he disagrees. He recalled a “Maury” episode in which 50 “hot women” were lined up on stage, 25 of them actually men. The audience members received $100 if they could distinguish the natural women from the transvestites.
“That’s pretty low-brow,” O’Brien said.
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