Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I-Thou, I-It, and Reality TV

When we discussed Martin Buber’s I and Thou it made me think of reality television. Buber’s text presents two modes through which people interact with the world, the I-It and the I-Thou. The I-It relationship is a quantitative one where the subject is viewed as a definable object in the world that is a sum of its part. The I-Thou involves recognizing the innate humanity in others and viewing them as greater than the sum of their parts. Reality television has taken what seems to be the most obvious interpretation of the I-Thou, Love, and made it into an I-It relationship. Take for instance a show like The Bachelor or, more recently, My Antonio both shows feature a group of women trying to win the hand of an eligible bachelor in hopes of marrying them. The audiences of these shows are expected to believe that the relationships generated constitute Love, or an I-Thou relationship, which is ridiculous given the amount of engineering show producers do to garner good ratings. However in viewing the show the audience participates in an I-It relationship where it quantifies the contestants and in the shows like this where there is also a cash prize at stake the participants treat each other as things amongst things using each other like means to an end. It seems with the popularity of reality television, VH1, and MTV the I-thou will be completely obscured by and confused with the I-It making true caring relationships between people become superseded by relationships based solely on utility.


  1. I really like your comparison of Buber's ideas to the reality t.v. shows. Although it may be deemed as an I-thou relationship, the relationship produced on television doesn't articulate the importance of two freedoms interacting. I would go as far as to say that both parties whether it is the male or female in the bachelor/bachelorette or the partners they are choosing are both objectifying themselves in their positions. Neither are freedoms so my question is whether that can be constituted as even an I-It relationship? If they are both objects playing their roles, could it be an It-It relationship?

  2. Wow, I totally agree, and I think that you are very right to point out the money that is at stake in these shows. There was one "Bachelor"-type show a few years ago where the bachelor pretended to be very wealthy while in real life he was a contruction worker. The premise of the show was based on exposing the "I-it" relationships between the pretend billionaire bachelor and the female contestants. Once there was no money as an incentive to desire the "it" (i.e. the bachelor) the it would no longer be useful and the women would not be interested in the bachelor.


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