Reality TV

by admin on May 27, 2013

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.

{ 64 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin May 28, 2013 at 8:38 am

I usually avoid reality TV, but I do admit that I’m stuck on RuPaul’s Drag Race. If you’re going to watch reality TV, you may as well go completely over the top.

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delislice May 28, 2013 at 8:52 am

It’s pure coincidence that our decision to get rid of television coincided with the premiere of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” *not*

When we had television, we mostly watched “The Big Bang Theory” and documentaries. Sadly, in the last half-decade, we were noticing a trend. Channels on which we used to be able to find interesting “nonfiction” programs — such as the History Channel, The Learning Channel, and National Geographic — had begun to fill most of their on-air time with “reality” programs, many of which bore little or no connection to the channel’s name.

We got rid of TV about a year ago, and our two teenagers and my spouse and I simply don’t miss it. We watch program episodes on Netflix once they become available, and we pay $100 a season for a subscription to watch major league baseball games on the computer.

I am grieved by the loneliness, desire for money, and feelings of insignificance and inadequacy that I believe prompt many people to agree to participate in reality TV. I sincerely hope that either through the program(s) in which they participate or through some other source they find fulfillment.

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Mer May 28, 2013 at 9:29 am

jen a: I completely agree with you. I agree with this reality tv- aspect, but it is good to remember, that while sharing embarrassing picture in facebook for 100-200 friends is not exactly the same than exploiting kids for money in tv in front of crowd of millions, the first is just a milder version of the other. Both will create permanent public material about the kid without his/her consent. I think everyone here has been enough in the internet to see in different picture sites comments like this: “This popped in my facebook feed, thought it was funny and shared it”. So even if your own privacy settings are as good as they might, there is always the human factor. And your kid might be the next meme multiplying over internet, photoshopped in different forms etc. Not probably something a teen or adult person would like to find later on in life.

I know people who never post pictures about their kids in internet and I think that is good. Or others who while do post few (have to admit, social sites are easy way to share pictures with relatives or other persons who would see them anyway), never use the kids name so it’s harder to later of for someone to search with the name and come by childhood pictures.

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Rap May 28, 2013 at 9:33 am

“The Duggars view their experiences with reality TV as a ministry. They may be making money per episode but it appears to be given away for relief efforts in Haiti and helping friends build an addition to their home. Michelle Duggar is the antithesis of the undignified drama queen.”

Not to disagree intentionally with admin, but is there any proof the Duggars are giving away most of the money to charity? Because they are living a decidedly more lavish lifestyle than when the show began, when they were at 14 kids.

I also think, regardless of ministry intent, that it’s wrong to put your kids on tv. At the end of the day, parents are supposed to provide for their kids, not the other way around. Reality show kids aren’t covered by Coogan’s Law and that law actually only covers kids in California. The Duggars, Honey Boo Boo, the Roloffs, the Gosselins, name the family – the parents are the ones deciding to put the family on tv, and the parents are the ones getting the checks. They aren’t required to put one red cent aside for the children and its consistent across the board that the parents aren’t filmed in situations that their children are forced to submit to.

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cwm May 28, 2013 at 9:54 am

I was fortunate enough to have been paid by a TV station to go into a situation I never would have been able to otherwise. It was touted as a documenatry. All of the information prior to our showing up on location and beginning filming made us believe that it was a documentary. The channel it was for had, at that point, never had a “reality” show that wasn’t actually a documentary style. The camera crew, on the other hand, was all picked from shows such as Survivor and Real Housewives type shows. It was turned from a documentary into manufactured drama very quickly. My fellow castmates and I learned quickly to avoid any sort of drama while the camera crew was around and tried to settle things away from them, but it wasn’t always easy. We found out later that the camera crew had been moving our things around and trying to otherwise provoke us. There was a time when another girl on the show and I were two of the most hated people on television, ranking as more vile and hated than most politicians and pundits at the time. And what had we done? Simply been ourselves. The show was edited in a way to show us in the worst light possible, and our sense of humor was twisted to be shown as cruel and spiteful, which it isn’t.

My point is, please don’t paint all “reality” TV shows with the same brush. Most of them aren’t good for anything but drama and excesses, but some of us got into it thinking it was something else entirely and got burned badly when the final product came out. My parents were completely behind my going on the show, but I recieved a pittance from the company and have had to completely change my online habits, lest I be hated and reviled because of what some corporate editor twisted me into being.

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Timothy May 28, 2013 at 11:23 am

I almost hate to admit it on here, but I do watch a fair few reality shows. However, most of the shows I watch are competitions (i.e. The Amazing Race, or Survivor, I must admit), and the rest are industry experts going around to fix up places that are not doing well (Kitchen Nightmares and Bar Rescue are the main ones for me to watch). I can’t stand any of the dating shows, or ones that just follow families or people around. I’ve seen about 10 minutes of Honey Boo Boo on accident, and my only reaction was “Why would anyone want to watch this? This is freaking depressing!”

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Vicky May 28, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I like talent/competition reality shows such as So You Think You can Dance, The Amazing Race, Chopped and America’s Got Talent. Those programs actually feature talent and people who work hard to try to improve themselves and their craft. The “drama” based reality programming is garbage and we can blame MTV for starting it all with The Real World.

My daughter sees commercials for some of this garbage and occasionally I will let her watch it (and I with her) but only to open discussions on how not to act or how this isn’t real. She likes Dance Moms because she loves the dancing but we both comment on how terrible it is for the girls. She just shakes her head and says that she can’t believe Abby or the mothers would act this way.

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Missy May 28, 2013 at 5:47 pm

I totally agree with Lisa. I see ehell as the same sort of guilty pleasure as reality TV. (Used to watch Biggest Loser, Real Housewives, Bachelor/ette – the trashier the better.) Though on ehell, there is definitely a sense of self-awareness. I don’t see that on reality TV. My experience is that they purposefully seek out deluded people who will never change. I won’t deny that I’m entertained by it all. Not to mention the fact that there is some comfort (in a looks-obsessed society) that there are so many beautiful people with awful lives.

That said, I definitely knew it isn’t my finest quality. I’ve cut way back on entertainment in general since becoming a a parent because I just don’t have the time. (Though there are some long-standing threads I read for stress relief.) I don’t miss the reality TV at all. I never believed that what I saw was real or healthy, or even something I would want to start emulating. But it still wasn’t all that good for me.

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European Redhead May 29, 2013 at 9:26 am

@ CWM: now I’m really curious what is your name and what reality show you have been in. Because of the nature of my job I’m familiar with most of the reality programs that have been broadcasted in the past five years so you really piqued my curiosity. On the other hand I’m glad someone from behind the camera came here and revealed just a little slice of how manipulative the reality television is even towards its own “actors”. We only see what the camera will capture and what the production decides to tell us in the commentary. We don’t see what’s happening when the cameras stop rolling or different perspectives as we may have if we would witness the situation personally. Even the Romans already knew that bread and games is what keeps people satisfied and as long as we can fill our tummies with food and watch cheap entertainment that is on TV, we will be happy and content, I guess…

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Peas May 29, 2013 at 10:07 am

Honestly? Soooo much has been touted as a cause of the downfall of society that it’s kind of gotten to the point of “I don’t like this = it must be the cause of the downfall of society!”

I am a college educated, fully employed, well balanced individual and I like reality TV. Heck, I like TV in general and I feel absolutely no need to apologize for that. If you don’t like tv or just don’t watch tv, that does not make you a more intelligent or better person than your neighbor who does. There is a lot of judgement and outright superiority here that doesn’t jive well with being “etiquette experts”.

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Library Diva May 29, 2013 at 11:20 am

I do enjoy some reality TV. I actually learned a lot from Bridezillas and am thrilled to report a stress-free, drama-free wedding. I like Pawn Stars and American Pickers, though I’m sure they’re both heavily manipulated (Pawn Stars, for example, is edited to look like one day in the shop. I’m sure they film for weeks to get all of that stuff and edit to get the variety they want. It would make for a dull episode if they spent an entire one seeing things they had no interest in). I have also enjoyed some of the “expert turns around failing business” ones like Kitchen Nightmares and Tabetha’s Salon Takeover, and the competition-style ones like Top Chef and Project Runway.

I think that for better or for worse, the genre is here to stay. If you think about it, it’s not really “new” anyway. PBS followed a family for “American Family” in the 1970s. A local couple who recently celebrated an anniversary were among the first to get married on TV in the 1950s. Somewhere along the line, all the networks cottoned on to the fact that regular folk would love a moment in the limelight and would come much cheaper than people who were hoping to make their living as actors. These shows are very cheap to produce, so networks love them, advertisers love them and as long as people keep watching, they’ll keep on coming.

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cathy May 29, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Let’s not forget MTV’s Real World, one of the granddaddies of reality TV along with the Loud family documentary. RW got pretty trashy sometimes, especially in the later series. The early ones are kind of fun, though.

I used to watch Toddlers and Tiaras, but I got so disgusted with it, and with myself for being addicted to it, that I stopped. (I used to yell at the TV so much during the episodes that my husband questioned my sanity.) I still watch Hoarders, Pawn Stars, SYTTD, What Not to Wear, Survivor, anything with Gordon Ramsay, and a couple of “restaurant rescue” shows. Also SYTYCD. Gave up on Idol some time ago – I couldn’t stand how they “made over” their contestants so they all looked and sounded exactly alike. Boring. I accept that these shows are edited to be whatever the producers want. They’re still fun. But I agree with getting young children off these shows. They’re too young to make the decision to be on the show, and they’re probably not reaping any of the rewards.

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