By Tony Russo

If it had political goals, we could easily call reality television terrorism. But since it has neither goal nor point, we’ll go with bully-porn. The ostensible premise of all reality television is anthropologic; the audience gets to play amateur anthropologist. We get to examine the lives of strangers in their natural habitat (or pointedly out of their natural habitat as may be the case) and learn about human nature or whatever.

No one believes that is going on. I doubt anyone ever has.

Bully Porn (which I should trademark before they use) is something out of science fiction. It allows the emotional experiences of the hatred, viciousness and stereotyping banned from civilized life, to rise without consequence. It gives viewers an opportunity to be openly hostile and derisive to stereotypes made flesh. A person can’t disparage white trash in mixed company, but they can have a go at Honey Boo Boo without anyone raising an eyebrow. It is diabolical, really.

Worse and moreover, the more civilized the viewer, the more depraved the act.

Watching a show to laugh at people who are demonstrably less cultured and dumber than you is like watching porn in a group. Though common among teenagers, who lack the sensibility that comes with integration into civilization, it is slightly creepy among grownups. The frequency with which you do it says something about your commitment to civilized discourse. It says something about the kind of person you are.

The days of open racism and sexism are over. Unfortunately, people who used to rely on being able to unleash their fear of a changing world on women or racial or class groups still need an outlet. Bully porn’s popularity seems inherently tied to emotional repression, it is the valve small minds use to unleash the fear of a world in which they don’t really matter.

A friend at work who recently moved from Texas this week worried it was only a matter of time before they made bully porn in his home state. As a former resident of the Jersey Shore and one of the most Jersey-centric people around, I understood his anxiety. No matter what your regional stereotypes are, even if you like to make fun of them yourself, it is tough to see your culture held up to ridicule.

The difference between porn and erotica (or between reality TV and bully porn) is the same as the difference between laughing at and laughing with. It has to do with derision versus the recognition of humanity and empathy. It has to do with being a thinking 21st century grownup.