Marshall McLuhan said, “Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.”
In any other circumstance I would be willing to agree with McLuhan. As a philosopher and a fan of pop culture, I’ve attempted to defend the idea that every form of mass entertainment — from reality shows to pornography — has some philosophical value, and I wholeheartedly believe that entertainment and education are not mutually exclusive.
I believed this until I watched The Bad Girls’ Club.
I might have just found the one TV show with absolutely no philosophical value whatsoever.
For eight seasons, The Bad Girls’ Club, created by The Real World co-creator, Johnathan Murray, has followed the alcohol and aggression fuelled day-to-day goings on among seven self-professed “bad girls”. For anyone who has not seen the show (and I hope to Aristotle you haven’t) The Bad Girls’ creed goes like this:
A Bad Girl knows what she wants and how to get it. She makes her own way, makes her own rules and she makes no apologies. A Bad Girl blazes her own trail and removes obstacles from her path. A Bad Girl fights and forces her way to the top with style and beauty. A Bad Girl believes in jumping first and looking later. People will love you. People will hate you. Others will secretly wish to be you. A Bad Girl is you.
I’m not (nor will I ever be) a regular viewer of the show. I’ll freely admit that I’ve only been able to stomach watching five episodes of the series (airing on the Oxygen network). Although I am not a regular viewer, I’ve figured out these things:
- The women on this show have serious mental issues
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, swearing, yelling, and other rude/aggressive behavior directed towards other people is considered reasonable behavior in the world of reality television
- Bad girls like the sex… a lot
- Drinking makes people homophobic
- To be careful where you put your contact lenses and more importantly, who is around them
- Fighting, especially between rowdy, drunken young women, can pull in 2 million weekly viewers
While forcing myself to watch The Bad Girl’s Club, the (inevitable) question I ask myself is ‘what value does watching this TV show serve?’ I have a fairly low bar for entertainment, but this show is not even entertaining. It’s like every week the show’s producers jam every chick fight on the Jerry Springer Show into one hour of reality television. From a purely entertainment perspective at least MTV’s Jersey Shore is interesting enough to remember some of their names: J-Woww, Snooki, The Situation, but there’s not one bad girl that I do or want to remember.
But I digress…
But if Marshall McLuhan is right, my failure to understand that the The Bad Girls’ Club is not only entertaining but also educational is a real problem — especially in light of the fact that I personally believe that popular culture, no matter how innane, has philosophical value. So, after forcing myself to watch one more DVR’d episode of The Bad Girls’ Club, I’ve come up with this: The Bad Girls’ Club isn’t merely about more than likely alcoholic (or at least problem drinkers) women fighting — what the show really has to teach us is all about Hobbsian philosophy. No really, it is.
The 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), argued that governments are formed between men (the social contract) to preserve peace between individuals. Hobbes writes in Leviathan (1651), “during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man.” In Hobbes’ state of nature, each man is left to his own wits and strength to defend what is his and will do anything to preserve his own life. According to Hobbes, life in the absence of a peace-preserving government is “nasty, brutish, and short”. Likewise, Hobbes’ state of nature is embodied in the Bad Girls’ greed that states a bad girl will “make her own way”, and “makes her own rules and she makes no apologies”. Life in the bad girls mansion may not be short (I
hope think the producers will step in before it goes that far), but life in the bad girls mansion certainly is brutish and nasty.
I can’t wait for season 9.