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Why are we addicted to misery porn

Posted at — Oct 11, 2021 by Abishek Muthian

I walked by the living room other day and there was this reality show on television in which the participants were narrating what it seemed like their life story. It was sad, they and other participants were crying inconsolably while the camera panned to each of their faces for a close-up.

It was quite awful to watch.

I haven't watched television for nearly a decade and so I had to search for details on this show. It's called Big Boss and seems to have quite a fan following considering it has run several seasons in various regional languages and Internationally.

I have heard that show name before, About two years back a parent was complaining to my mother that their child is on strike against studying for the board exam since they didn't allow watching Big Boss. A very important high school graduating exam, That's when school was still a thing in India.

The very episode I'm talking about now is available to watch for free on a streaming website, Skip to 27:05.

The show description reads, I cannot make this up:

In today's task, two housemates share their life stories and the others are asked to react with various emoticons. Who will gather the most "likes" and "dislikes"?

Likes for the one who has the most miserable life? If this is not misery porn, I'm not sure what is.

Association with the audience is the name of the game for modern day entertainment. From invoking familiar brand names(Tik-Tok, Facebook, Instagram..) in the break-up song lyrics to associating with the misery. The latter gives a sense of compatriotship subconsciously to the audience in the form of "It's not just me, everyone's having a miserable life" and when the participant we root for wins the show it would seem like we've accomplished it ourself.

But the next day we have to carry on with our miserable life alone.

The issue with misery porn is that it has moved beyond the realm of entertainment and into News(Which some might say is still entertainment). Majority of the content in TV News shows are now dedicated to such misery porn, aspiration porn and hope porn.

I'm not devoid of empathy, quite the opposite I'm worried that all these misery porn are normalizing misery and creating a world of apathy. Add that with the hope porn, Now we expect that world around us would magically get better tomorrow without any action from us.

It's not that consumers voluntarily seek content on misery, In fact I can statistically prove that people avoid what they think might make them sad; The links I shared on social media with hashtag #disability get far fewer clicks than my other posts! So the entertainment media rope in viewers into their content often showing the brighter, fun part of the shows and then get them high on misery, aspiration and hope.

I'm not free of misery porn addiction either, I really liked the Netflix series Squid Game although it might be unfair to tag a thoroughly made show which asks pertinent philosophical questions under misery porn but it does rely upon misery a lot and tries to find association with us using the rising inequality.

Chinese girl studying under her parents' food stall table
This photo of the chinese girl studying under her parent's food stall table has gone viral, With WhatsApp uncles amplifying it with hope and aspiration but what I see is just the misery due to the failure of the Government and humanity as a whole.

Change log

Oct 12: Added the picture of the Chinese girl studying under her parent's food stall table.

Oct 23: Added subconsciously and emphasis on the sentence following it.

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