With the recent spate of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” to be kept up with, “Chasing the Saturdays” to chase and “Real Housewives” for real housewives to obsess over, it can be easy to lose sight of any merit in today’s ever-expanding tapestry of reality shows. Certainly, aside from teaching viewers about the intricacies of the Kimye romance, we can throw “educational” to the bottom of the reality show attributes list.
But in doing so we would be undercutting the one lesson Snooki has embodied better than anyone else: living shamelessly.
By no means should that sentence suggest to anyone that we should cast aside social norms in favor of dancing on tables and screaming at each other for the sake of being “real.” The last thing anyone needs is a Hobbesian devolution.
What it does mean is that we shouldn’t be ashamed to try. It doesn’t matter what we try, whether it’s trying out for an a cappella group or trying to talk to that cute guy in your discussion section. So what if you fail?
Maybe you find out halfway through your audition that you are extraordinarily tone deaf. Sure, that’s embarrassing, but in 20 years, at a cocktail party, you can tell the story of how you gave up on your rock star dreams to a group of laughing listeners because you’re actually really funny and charming despite not being able to sing.
Maybe you fall on your face walking up to the aforementioned cute guy, spilling all your books and papers on the floor and he laughs at you with his friends. You can rest assured knowing that you have a warrior’s spirit and that the object of your affections probably wouldn’t hold a door open for someone carrying half a dozen boxes and bags.
On the other hand, what if your audition goes really well? What if your favorite a cappella group decides to take you on and you meet your new best friends and you perform in front of crowded lecture halls? When you’re standing in front of that Fine Arts classroom decorated with colorful signs indicating that auditions are TODAY AND RIGHT NOW, imagine all of this before you decide to keep walking. Put your hand on the door knob, take a breath and remember that, whatever happens, you’re funny and charming, even if you can’t sing.
We talk ourselves out of dozens of little decisions every day. A question thought up during class is deemed stupid and banal. Writing competitions are suddenly filled with competitors that are much better and much more eloquent than we are. E-Board candidates are inexplicably more qualified and passionate than we could hope to be. Don’t talk to the girl smiling at you in the café; she probably thinks your shirt is weird.
In talking ourselves out of doing things, we become insignificant, homely creatures crawling amongst paradigms of humanity that are smarter, faster and stronger than we are. The truth is that they haven’t outclassed us. We’ve done that to ourselves.
It’s easier to sit at home and fantasize about what we’d do without actually doing it. Never trying also means never failing. We have stigmatized failing to such an extent that a person who fails is somehow also a failure. Yet, truthfully, the failure is the person who never tries. Failing is a hallmark of trying.
While shows like “American Idol” make their money with episodes featuring embarrassingly poor contestants being torn down by judges for the public to laugh at, we have to remember that these laughingstocks are already 10 times braver than anyone watching them.
No success was achieved without failure leaving it pockmarked and somewhat marred. Still, how much more beautiful and interesting it is for not being an untarnished feat.
The greatest people we know tried. Alexander, Cleopatra, Edison, Goethe, Napoleon, da Vinci, Charlemagne, Elizabeth I — these are all people who, instead of sitting on a couch, brushing off potato chip crumbs while watching reruns of “Jersey Shore,” scrabbled up a rocky, metaphorical hillside and stood up after every fall.
And at the very least we can take comfort in the fact that the only person who remembers our failures is ourselves. The spotlight effect convinces us that everyone is watching us fail despite no one actually caring about what the lone student is doing.
So, when you’re done catching up on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” go out and try something new. Maybe you’ll fail. Maybe you won’t.