2020 will go down in history as one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory; social movements, ineffective governments, and of course, a global pandemic that is being ignored in the States. It’s a lot to process. With the added agony of infuriating social media posts, being locked up in your home to flatten the curve, and doom-scrolling through news that only seems to get worse can put a strain on anyone’s mental health. As someone who prided themselves on falling in love through cinema, I was finding it hard to revisit films to get away from it all. What was once my comforting, I found myself turning away from, unable to stomach escaping such a tragic reality. Motivation slipped and YouTube became my saving grace in the first few months of quarantine.
YouTube is an odd place, and if you don’t venture down into the comment section it can be a pretty cool one too. What I got out of YouTube at the beginning of quarantine was a sense of connection. You knew when someone would drop a new video, and in a country where people were being let go from their jobs left and right without enough government assistance to live off of, it felt reliable. That Monday morning video of your favorite creator turned into the most consistent relationship in my life. It felt as if someone was coming into my home for a brief moment and telling me “Hey, I know it’s bad, but let’s talk about something fun for a few minutes to take our minds off it all, alright?” So I did.
The same happened when I returned to my favorite competition show, Hell’s Kitchen. I cannot get enough of Gordon Ramsay and his frustrations with stupid mistakes that supposedly seasoned chefs shouldn’t be making. It made me smile every time. It made me relate. It allowed me an option to vent like I used to at my job. Hell’s Kitchen also showed me a “normalized” world. Watching chefs go out and experiencing L.A. after winning a challenge felt invigorating. It was almost as if I were experiencing it alongside them. It also allowed me to yell at my TV in a therapeutic way. Some of the seasons have really sexist people competing and others that get under your skin enough for you to yell “How are you not off the show yet?!” I was able to vent in a way that I didn’t even know I needed.
On the other end of the spectrum, exploring Gordon Ramsay’s softer nature, shows like Kitchen Nightmares and 24 Hours to Hell and Back helped me connect with the caring nature that each of us used to experience. Ramsay truly feels genuine in his desire to help others in his field. He wants to bring out the best in people, even when some won’t listen. It called to mind how kind the world can be when all summer long the sinister exploits of police officers across the country showed us otherwise. When he magically gives people hundreds of thousands of dollars of new equipment for them to survive and be the best that they can be…I was brought to tears.
Does reality television provide anything profound or the next big television event in the style of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Lost? No. None of reality television is good enough to inspire water cooler conversation. Still, I found comfort in it during these dark times that have no end in sight. When all your connections are through digital words day after day, throwing on one of these shows feels like a crisp lemonade on a hot summer’s afternoon trickling down your throat. It takes my mind off of this horrific situation, if even for just a brief moment, and allows me to reflect on what was and reminds me that we will persist and survive this.