Ralph Waldo Emerson: Self-Reliance

It's called "Self-Reliance." What could it possibly be about?

American LiteratureAll American Literature
AuthorEmerson - Ralph Waldo Emerson
FormEssay
LanguageEnglish Language
LiteratureAmerican Literature

Transcript

00:27

Reality TV was born.

00:28

There is one man who may be responsible for reality TV…

00:33

…one man who might have… in a round-about way… inspired some producer to come up with

00:38

The Real Housewives of Where-the-heck-ever.

00:43

Ralph Waldo Emerson, we're looking at you. Emerson doesn't seem like the kind of guy

00:51

who we would hold accountable for The Bachelorette.

00:56

He was, after all, one of the great writers and lecturers of 19th century America.

01:01

Emerson, however, had... views about individualism. In 1841, Emerson published his essay entitled

01:11

Self-Reliance, where he made a few points, the first of which was… Conformity bites.

01:17

Just be yourself!

01:20

Emerson believed that societies force conformity on people.

01:23

If we would just throw off the chains of social pressure and popular opinion, and be ourselves…

01:30

…then the world would be a better place and we would not have to spend our nights

01:34

crying into a pint of Haagen-Dazs. But what happens when Emerson's individualism

01:41

goes wrong?

01:42

You get reality TV, where people are paid, not to be themselves…

01:48

…but to be the worst possible versions of themselves: stupid, cruel, petty, vulgar,

01:55

and selfish.

01:56

When we don't have to conform to the societal standards that help us blend in with the rest

02:00

of humanity...

02:01

…when we have free reign to be as awful as we want, because that's just who we are...

02:06

…well, then you get season one of The Simple Life.

02:11

Emerson’s second point: Friends. And no, he didn’t know Ross or Rachel personally.

02:18

Emerson didn't believe in having friends...or maybe it's just that no one could bear to

02:22

be friends with his fine individualistic self.

02:28

Reality TV stars don't make friends, either.

02:30

Why would they? Reality TV is about the conflicts between individuals who refuse to be anything

02:36

other than themselves.

02:38

Besties skipping through meadows full of kittens, rainbows, and Keebler elves… have no place

02:42

on reality TV. Point three: Tact? What's that?

02:48

Emerson said in Self-Reliance that people should always tell the truth, no matter what.

02:54

Wow, Emerson, what a great idea...until you hurt someone's feelings so badly that they

03:00

feel compelled to leave a bag of burning dog poo on your doorstep.

03:04

Reality TV stars live in the same always-honest world as Emerson.

03:10

If you're dedicated to your individualism above all else, then you can say whatever

03:14

you want, no matter how it makes others feel. There are good things about individualism.

03:24

We're all different people, with different talents and interests, and those differences

03:28

make the world a more vibrant place.

03:30

But individualism also has a dark side… kinda like the Force.

03:34

It can make people insufferable; it can make them uninterested in friendship…

03:39

…it can make them spew out horrible, hurtful things…

03:42

…it can turn them into Darth Vader.

03:49

If Emerson was a high school student, we'd have him take another look at Self-reliance...

03:53

…after we'd forced him to watch every episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and My Big Redneck

03:59

Vacation.

04:03

What do you think?

04:04

Is self-reliance… really such a bad thing? Doesn’t it at least have some redeeming

04:08

qualities?

04:11

Shmoop amongst yourselves.