Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Verbal Abuse as Entertainment

When I grew up, my parents always told me that there was a sort of person who needed to tear down others to try to salvage his or her nonexistent self-esteem, and that I should not be that sort of person. Judging by radio and TV today, though, such people seem to be doing awfully well.

Verbal abuse is now a popular entertainment form. Weakest Link, American Idol, Cupid... all “reality shows” that showcase and derive their popularity from gratuitous viciousness. David Letterman has made a career of finding people from “flyover country” and interviewing them in such a way that he and his audience can derive their sick jollies from feeling hip and superior. Such interviews and prank calls are a major feature of, for example, Mancow Muller’s syndicated radio show. We’ve already mentioned “Dr. Laura.” One sees the actions of, say, Simon Cowell rationalized as “honesty” or “tough love”—but one can be honest without being vicious or abusive.

So why are these TV and radio shows doing so well? Have we turned into the people that our parents warned us not to be, or a cowardly variant thereof who just enjoy watching someone else do the dirty work? It doesn’t speak very well for us.

A flashback and analogy

You've probably heard about how the notion of sum types (e.g. Algol 68 union s, Rust enum s, Haskell type s) and product types (e.g. tup...