This is a blog post that has been percolating in my mind for months. Years ago I wrote a scathing critique of reality shows which I viewed as an unrealistic extrapolation of real life events and an exploitation of children by their parents. Minor aged children do not have the capacity to judge what is best for them and this becomes a problem when their parents make decisions for them that are not in the children’s best interests. “Jon and Kate Plus Eight”, on the occasions I did watch it, made me cringe as the bratty exploits of the two older twins became the drama upon which an episode was based. The concept of “love covering a multitude of sins”, i.e. being discreet about exposing the foibles of others you allege to love, was antithetical to the fundamental goal of a reality TV show which was to expose as much family drama as possible.
When I began to become more of a public figure 18 years ago and had the opportunity to be seen or heard on TV, radio, print media, etc., my husband and I made the conscious decision to diligently protect the privacy of our then small children. Anyone would be hardpressed to find an instance of our kids’ names being mentioned online or in any media. This protected their personal right to choose how they wanted their life exposed to the world and as adults, they are very private and appreciative that I did not use them as real life etiquette examples nor exposed them in ways they could not control. There are no archives, no TV shows in syndication replaying the stupid things they did as kids and teenagers. Many years ago Walter Cronkite gave an interview during which he and his wife were asked about their children. Apart from their names and addresses, they both refused to answer any questions about their children (who were by then teenagers), saying their children had never volunteered to be his children and to publicize them would violate their privacy. The idea of protecting the privacy of your children is definitely lost on reality show “stars”.
The main purpose of any television show is to sell soap. The success or failure of any show, reality or otherwise, is dependent upon how much advertising revenue can be generated. Reality TV show “actors” typically make anywhere from $20K as a base salary all the way up to $200K PER EPISODE. Years ago I was offered the position of etiquette expert on a then popular make over show. The drama associated with this show was ridiculous and I declined. My husband’s nephew and wife were offered $20K to do one episode of “Wife Swap” (bluegrass gospel and rock families switching moms for a week) and declined. Some things in life are not for sale.
But there are plenty of drama queens and kings out there who will sell their dignity to the highest bidder. Have you sat through a typical life event, scanned the crowd and wondered who would be the most likely to star in a reality TV series? I have. I enjoy estate auctions and I know exactly who, of the regular attendees, would eagerly signup to be a reality star. They are the blow hards, the drama queens who strut around self importantly drawing attention to themselves (often with entitled behavior) while the rest of the normal folk quietly go about the business of life with as minimal amount of drama as possible. They are the ones who enter a room with loud drama, drawing all eyes to themselves. Reality TV is not representative of the real world. The shows are biased towards casting people who are exhibitionists with limited boundaries on appropriate behavior. The producers want “stars” who will deliver the drama and the uglier the behavior, the better. Indiscretion, gossip, backbiting and backstabbing, slander, trash talking, rudeness, retaliation, deceit, hatred, bullying, harassment, and on and on are all put out there for public consumption as if this was how real people behave. And it’s all done for the almighty dollar.
Just watching the trailers for any of the “Real Housewives of ……” series tells me there is nothing real about these alleged “housewives”. A lot of manufactured drama which would make those with an intact sense of decorum, decency and dignity recoil in horror at the suggestion they behave in that manner. I watched National Geographic channel’s series, “Meet The Hutterites” with great anticipation since the Hutterites have historically been a very closed society and I expected NGS’s usual standard of informative, documentary style programming. The entire series earned harsh criticisms because the producers created false story lines and hyped the drama thus turning it into a tawdry reality show that was profoundly embarrassing for the Hutterites of the King Colony. They had sold off their dignity for a large sum of money that was used to buy large equipment for the colony. “Breaking Amish” was another series that drew intense criticism from the Amish and Mennonite communities as being nothing even remotely comparable to reality since none of the “stars” were actually who they claimed to be. Five people who were presented as in the process of leaving the Amish or Mennonites were found to have left the religion years earlier, had arrest records for DUIs/unlawful conduct/spousal abuse. All were portrayed as being unmarried yet social media site Facebook was quick to reveal that nearly all of them had been previously married, some had children, were divorced. It was viewed as a gross distortion of the truth and a hateful maligning of the Amish in order to create drama that would sell advertising.
Reality TV is a debasement of our culture as it glorifies, educates and encourages behavior that is not dignified, decent, restrained, truthful, or kind.
Part two tomorrow will discuss the trend towards exploiting the vulnerable.