Lecture to discuss fascination of reality TV

By Ali Kresslein

“American Idol” is back for another season, and millions of viewers will keep their Tuesday and Wednesday nights free to curl up on the couch and watch the popular reality television show. But why do so many people find “American Idol” and other reality TV shows fascinating?

Katie Braun, this year’s winner of UK’s annual Breathitt Lectureship, will discuss that topic tonight at 7:30 in W.T. Young Library Auditorium. Braun’s lecture is titled “ ‘In a competition full of hamburgers, you’re a steak!’: ‘American Idol’ and the Rise of Reality Television in the Maintenance of Our Egos.”

Any UK undergraduate can apply for the Breathitt Lectureship with a proposal for a lecture in the humanities, said Lisa Broome-Price, interim director of the Gaines Center for the Humanities. A selection committee chooses from among the applicants, and the winner receives a $500 honorarium.

The committee chose Braun, a psychology senior, for the lecture because her proposal showed significant knowledge and research along with great enthusiasm about her topic, Broome-Price said.

Braun said she wanted to research the rise of reality TV and what psychologically attracts viewers to watch it.

“It’s basically about why people like and enjoy reality television, and why people like watching other people humiliate themselves,” Braun said.

Viewers can get pleasure from “American Idol” in two ways, Braun said. One way is to compared themselves to an excellent singer and be able to reflect that talent on themselves.

“Or, the more interesting thing,” she said, “is that they can compare themselves to someone who’s worse, like in the ‘humiliation rounds’ at the beginning.”

The show’s producers include only the most arrogant and deluded contestants in the humiliation rounds, Braun said, so viewers don’t have to feel bad about taking pleasure at the poor performances.

Braun encouraged students to come to the lecture because “besides the free food at the end, I will be showing excerpts from reality TV shows that show humiliation,” she said.

Braun will also present her lecture at a pop-culture conference in Albuquerque, N.M., later this year.