It's called "Self-Reliance." What could it possibly be about?
|American Literature||All American Literature|
|Author||Emerson - Ralph Waldo Emerson|
Reality TV was born.
There is one man who may be responsible for reality TV…
…one man who might have… in a round-about way… inspired some producer to come up with
The Real Housewives of Where-the-heck-ever.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, we're looking at you. Emerson doesn't seem like the kind of guy
who we would hold accountable for The Bachelorette.
He was, after all, one of the great writers and lecturers of 19th century America.
Emerson, however, had... views about individualism. In 1841, Emerson published his essay entitled
Self-Reliance, where he made a few points, the first of which was… Conformity bites.
Just be yourself!
Emerson believed that societies force conformity on people.
If we would just throw off the chains of social pressure and popular opinion, and be ourselves…
…then the world would be a better place and we would not have to spend our nights
crying into a pint of Haagen-Dazs. But what happens when Emerson's individualism
You get reality TV, where people are paid, not to be themselves…
…but to be the worst possible versions of themselves: stupid, cruel, petty, vulgar,
When we don't have to conform to the societal standards that help us blend in with the rest
…when we have free reign to be as awful as we want, because that's just who we are...
…well, then you get season one of The Simple Life.
Emerson’s second point: Friends. And no, he didn’t know Ross or Rachel personally.
Emerson didn't believe in having friends...or maybe it's just that no one could bear to
be friends with his fine individualistic self.
Reality TV stars don't make friends, either.
Why would they? Reality TV is about the conflicts between individuals who refuse to be anything
other than themselves.
Besties skipping through meadows full of kittens, rainbows, and Keebler elves… have no place
on reality TV. Point three: Tact? What's that?
Emerson said in Self-Reliance that people should always tell the truth, no matter what.
Wow, Emerson, what a great idea...until you hurt someone's feelings so badly that they
feel compelled to leave a bag of burning dog poo on your doorstep.
Reality TV stars live in the same always-honest world as Emerson.
If you're dedicated to your individualism above all else, then you can say whatever
you want, no matter how it makes others feel. There are good things about individualism.
We're all different people, with different talents and interests, and those differences
make the world a more vibrant place.
But individualism also has a dark side… kinda like the Force.
It can make people insufferable; it can make them uninterested in friendship…
…it can make them spew out horrible, hurtful things…
…it can turn them into Darth Vader.
If Emerson was a high school student, we'd have him take another look at Self-reliance...
…after we'd forced him to watch every episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and My Big Redneck
What do you think?
Is self-reliance… really such a bad thing? Doesn’t it at least have some redeeming
Shmoop amongst yourselves.