The Curious Appeal of Terrible People
Three reasons that explain my strange addiction to 'Bridezillas.'
Posted Jun 24, 2019
Over the last year, I have been unequivocally and unhealthily obsessed with terrible reality wedding shows. You name it, I’ve watched it—probably multiple times. The worse it is, the higher my dopamine levels spike. Which obviously means, nothing gets my brain’s happy juices flowing like Bridezillas.
Perhaps due to its clever portmanteau, the Bridezilla concept doesn’t leave much to the viewers' imagination. If you’re picturing rude, obnoxious women eviscerating and emotionally and/or physically abusing their close friends, family members, and future spouses—all in the name of creating their “perfect day”—then you’ve already figured out the gist of the show.
It’s pure, unadulterated, all-caps D-R-A-M-A, the worst kind, in fact. In the past, I’ve written about the soapy, dramatic appeal of The Bachelor and its offshoots.
In effect, our addiction to drama stems from our biological inclination to seek pleasure. We get a fix of dopamine and adrenaline every time someone accepts a rose or, you know, angrily smashes a wedding cake on the floor for absolutely no reason.
We like drama, sure. But Bridezillas is different from your run-of-the-mill dating reality show. Bridezillas are the worst. Not only are they aware of this moniker, but they also embrace it.
There had to be another psychological explanation as to why I was so drawn to watching horrible people doing horrible things to their innocent loved ones, right? In 2012, Wired Magazine tackled a version of this question in a piece called, "Why Do Supervillains Fascinate Us? A Psychological Perspective."
Even if you believe Bridezillas are real women and not fledgling “actresses” playing up their roles for ratings and fame, you have to admit that their television personas exhibit a stark resemblance to those of humanity’s greatest bad guys. Think Hannibal Lecter and the Joker, for example.
The entire article is worth a read, but below I’ve touched on a couple of key takeaways that attempt to explain the appeal of terrible people.
- It enables us to confront our shadow selves. Psychiatrist Carl Jung believed the “shadow” and ego together build and shape our identities. Whereas the ego represents the conscious mind (i.e., memories, thoughts, and feelings we are aware of), the shadow refers to our darker tendencies, which Jung describes as “that hidden, repressed, for the most part, inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors…”
While our shadows are generally blamed as being the source of evil, Jung writes, “that his shadow does not consist only of morally reprehensible tendencies, but also displays a number of good qualities, such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses…”
Sometimes, our shadow selves help us discover hidden strengths, and other times, they exacerbate our flaws. And perhaps, as is the case of Bridezillas, watching other people unleash their worst wedding-induced shadows allowed typically mild-mannered me to live vicariously through them.
- They reflect our own selfish natures. Somewhat relatedly, Freud believed humans are all villains at heart. In his 1930 essay, Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud writes:
“...men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness.”
He continues with what seems to follow the rough outline of every Bridezillas episode:
“As a result, their neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him.”
If these evil tendencies are lurking in the depths of our own minds, as Freud claims, is it any wonder that we revel in delight at seeing others engage in this behavior?
- They exude a sense of disgust. As it turns out, disgust supercharges our fascination with villains, too, according to evolutionary research. In the early days of civilization, communities expelled those who didn’t conform to social rules and norms (a.k.a. the villains).
“Keeping the bad guys around would put everyone in danger, thus eliciting emotional responses like fear, disgust, and anger,” explains Zeynep Yenisey for Maxim. “It’s that emotional reaction that makes encountering a source of evil so titillating, even if we rationally understand that villains are undesirable.”
There you have it, three perfectly logical reasons to explain my terrible vice of watching the most terrible show on television. Or maybe, this is just my feeble attempt to excuse and further reinforce my Bridezillas addiction, so I can continue watching, guilt-free. But, at 12 seasons, I can’t be the only one, right?