Let me start off by acknowledging that I don’t mean that title literally. I don’t mean to suggest that the creators of the Real Housewives of [Some City You Don’t Live In] were sitting around thinking of faster ways to ruin civilization and decided to create a quasi-racist, definitely ignorant, oxymoronic (they want to lower taxes and the deficit, which is impossible), government overthrow by way of fascist capitalism political movement—say that three times fast, if you can, you probably aren’t part of the Tea Party. I’m not saying reality TV created the Tea Party movement, just that the general culture or lack thereof led to it.
Let me explain. 1000 years ago—or what feels like it—there were things called writers that scripted TV shows. They controlled the overall plot, flow, and content of a show, attempting to create a quality viewing experience, just like newspapers used to do for the way you received your news. However, this process was slightly too expensive for a TV executive—i.e., it cost some money—and TV writers sometimes talked back, so they decided to produce shit shows like Jersey Shore for approximately 10 percent of the same budget and cast lowlifes so desperate for fame they would literally do anything the TV networks told them to. Sadly, the viewing public embraced this idea—Jersey Shore’s last season premiere received more viewers than AMC’s ultimate quality drama Mad Men did for its season premiere—as they finally had TV characters they could feel superior to instead of ones that were smarter than them.
Viewers watch Don Draper on Mad Men or Walter White on Breaking Bad (a genius chemist turned meth cook), and feel inferior or less smart than those characters, or even those shows. They watch a bunch of knuckle draggers on reality television fight, screw, scream, and generally stumble through life in a fit of booze, hormones, and anger, and think “Hey, that could be me. I want to try out for that show!” The Andy Warholian reality of everyone getting their 15 minutes of fame was behind reality TV, birthed out of the idea that anyone can be a star. In a very well way, our politics have become this.
Even more specifically, this is the perfect analogy for what led to the Tea Party. You had big corporations (TV studios) that decided they were tired of paying big bucks to fund the campaigns of only sometimes supportive, moderate Republicans with pesky reservations about totally selling out (educated TV writers). So they decided to round up a bunch of inexperienced know-nothing sell out lunatics eager to please their new corporate backers (hack reality show writers who don’t care if they end Western civilization with Keeping Up with the Kardashians or the Kardashians themselves who are actually just sex robots used to pimp products), funded their campaign to get them to push out the moderate Republicans (writers of any quality show you loved but got cancelled after a season or two in place of a “cheaper” reality show), and once they’re in office, make them show their gratitude to corporate honchos like the Koch Brothers who gave them a job they weren’t qualified for by passing pro-corporate, anti-union legislation (or when hack reality writers do product placement inside a supposedly “real” show).
However, instead of voters (television audiences) being turned off by this wave of unqualified ignorance, they too dream of being the next Tea Party star (Top Model/Celebrity chef/fashion designer/American Idol). Some people say the Tea Party is corporate fascism (yes) and un-American, but honestly, what’s more American than selling some unqualified doofus for a fantasy position they barely understand? It’s just that instead of singing off key, these novices are ending collective bargaining and waging war on the middleclass. In the competition of elections, instead of just being a bad singer, the winner of this competition can ruin the American dream.