Carl over at Simply Left Behind brings up an issue I've been knocking around for awhile.
Why do people tend to watch shows that are totally antithetical to their daily life?
Why do people find shows about rich, yuppie white households so engaging while shows that more closely representing their self-interests are are ignored?
So here's my theory:
People watch entertainment to take their minds off their problems, not to re-hash them.
People in the 1800's didn't attend plays titled "The Towering Inferno", war films probably weren't popular in Vietnam during the American War (except for M.A.S.H., perhaps) and airplane crash documentaries are not popular on the S.F. to New York flight circuit.
So if Joe American doesn't want to watch a protagonist lose his job to another country, fail to pay his bills and hilariously sit for hours in the emergency room waiting for health care, what *does* he want to watch?
He wants to watch Dallas or Friends or Falcon Crest or some other show where he can imagine himself young, rich and carefree.
Comedian Ron White once asked, "You don't want to watch a porn flick that stars a man with a small penis, do ya?"
So in short, just as in porn, Joe Sixpack wants to watch shows in which he can subconciously cast himself as someone more successful.
If James Bond were real, he'd have no interest in shows full of intrigue such as Mission Impossible or Lost.
Unfortunately my theory simply falls down when applied to shows such as Survivor or American Idol. If you can't imagine yourself rich and sucessful, you can get some smug satisfaction from vicariously bashing someone else.
Or, to explain the attraction of American Idle, we can always fall back to an older, more reductionist theory: People are idiots.