I think most TV watchers have some form of “reality TV” that they enjoy. Whether that’s a secret guilty pleasure or something they boldly obsess over depends on the person and frequently the content. Some people are proud to love to Keep Up with the Karashians. Some people watch it secretly with the volume turned down really low and no one else home. For me, the reality shows I obsess over have long been those that focus on creative endeavors. What started with just Top Chef and Project Runway spilled over into tons more: Ink Master, which is about tattoo artists, Great Brish Baking Show, Face Off, which focuses on head-to-toe monster makes up, and most recently Blown Away, a Netflix original about glass blowing.
The beauty of these shows is that they can inspire us. The Great British Baking Show led to a surge in the sale of baking ingredients in the UK. I learned to cook because Top Chef peaked my interest. American Idol and The Voice have surely prompted many a singer to put themselves out there. NBC’s recent show Songland shows collaborative song-writing efforts in a way that I think should inspire anyone who writes, even if they aren’t writing songs, to bring others into what they do. I’m sure many people in a variety of fields have been prone to try something because they saw it on one of these shows.
On the other hand, these creatively focused competitions can trick us into seeing ourselves as more productive and creative than we actually are. I agree with the judges on their assessment so I must be just as creative as the people in the competition. I might not say that out loud, but I feel it. What am I actually doing with any creativity I have as I watch my seventh episode in a row of Face Off? While I don’t think one has to be able to create a specific thing in order to critique, at the same time, it's easy to trick ourselves out of real creative output through our critique or our binge session.
Critique can be its own creative work if one is crafting it and sending it into the world in a way that causes others to think rather than to simply scorn. But if it's just me with my bucket of popcorn yelling at the TV, I’m not adding any art to the world. And that’s the paradox of these shows. They beg to be binged while simultaneously making us crave artistic expression. And you can't have both. So maybe next time I’m watching one of these shows and I’m asked by my streaming service if I’m still watching, maybe I’ll say no and get up and bake something or write something. Maybe not every time, but at least sometimes.