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‘Alter Ego’ Is the Most Dystopian Reality Competition Yet

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It admittedly feels lame, or lazy, to each TV season crown a freshman series “the new low for reality television.” Every year, there’s any number of similar coronations—or, I guess, condemnations. Has the ball dropped in Times Square? Then usher in the new wave of griping about the “trashiest,” “stupidest,” “most offensive,” “craziest,” or, a modern favorite, “batshit” reality show “ever!” Or at least until next year!

This isn’t a recent phenomenon, born out of desperation for the clicks, likes, and retweets that come when headlines scream in hyperbole. For over three decades now, the race to crucify the next evolution of reality TV has been as competitive as networks’ race to escalate the shows’ outrageousness. It’s been happening ever since the 1991 season of The Real World challenged viewers to stop being polite and start getting real—and networks, in return, have wondered just how far they could take that dare, bastardizing the idea of what is “real,” and certainly what is “polite,” along the way.

The criticism comes from many sides, too. It’s not just the conservative pearl-clutchers you’d expect who are parading the streets chanting, “Shame!” at whatever crass/uninspired/morally depraved distraction reality TV producers have concocted.

There are those who have found various iterations in bad taste (think plastic surgery shows like The Swan) or demeaning (the poverty tourism of series like Duck Dynasty or Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo). The exploitation of sex and non-traditional matchmaking has long raised eyebrows, even before season 425 of The Bachelor premiered this year.

Purists who have championed the genre as a window into identities, cultures, and walks of life that might lead to empathy and more progressive understanding wondered, often misguidedly, what value there is to be had in a Keeping Up With the Kardashians or Real Housewives, while those who embrace those guilty pleasures have wondered if sometimes we take them too seriously.

Then there are the talent competitions, a branch of the reality-TV tree that seems to have networks vigorously hopping on top of it and then foraging for whatever fruit drops from it, no matter how rotten.

It’s wild how far we’ve come from the purity of the early years of American Idol—someone sings good, wins a prize and the........

© The Daily Beast

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