What Messages Do Our Children Get from Reality Television?

Posted on February 9, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Janelle Harris has a thoughtful essay called “How Reality TV Has Changed Our Daughters” on The Root.

Far, far away from network storyboarding and big-money business decisions—but not beyond their reaches—I am raising a 16-year-old daughter. She’s a good girl, free-spirited and introspective. Much to her mama’s disappointment, she doesn’t find reading pleasurable, but she doesn’t watch much TV, either, save a sudden interest in VH1’s Love & Hip Hop that developed last year. She doesn’t have to to be infected by the vitriol of reality shows. It’s already ingrained in black youth culture, and in her I see a hostility and distrust of other girls that breaks my heart and makes me doubly regretful about the reality-show facade.

Harris is writing about the special challenges faced by minority families because the opportunities to see reflections of their own experience are so limited in popular culture. All families, though, are challenged to explain appropriate behavior and encourage meaningful goals when “reality” television provides the outrageous, demeaning, and destructive behavior we see on shows from “The Bachelor” to “Honey Boo Boo,” and the issues she raises are important for every parent to think about carefully.

Copyright 2015 VH1
Copyright 2015 VH1
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Parenting Television

I Forgive You: A Powerful and Inspiring New Series on GMC

Posted on November 14, 2012 at 3:47 pm

GMC has a deeply moving new documentary series premiering this Sunday at 9 and 11 called I Forgive You, with stories of people to forgive those who have hurt them or someone they love.  Instead of the usual reality fare of competitions and catfights, this show brings two parties together to try and facilitate healing, overcome hatred, anger and revenge from real-life traumatizing events. Guided with mediation and healing support from educator and therapist Angie Richey, each story will showcase those who forgive and those who are forgiven.  Both require courage and both can be intensely spiritual and healing.  Demonstrating the power of forgiveness motivated by people’s faith, goodness, and, in many cases, their spiritual values, the series showcases individuals seeking to forgive someone from a criminal or violent act, as well as estranged family members, and love, marriage or business relationships that ended with hatred or bitterness.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EehR_kKkU1E

 

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Television

Reality TV: Pro and Con

Posted on October 4, 2011 at 8:00 am

“Does Reality Television Do More Harm Than Good?”

Fans and foes of reality television and fans of the art of argument and persuasion of all kinds will want to tune in as the debate teams from Harvard and Columbia rev up that long-time Boston/New York competition when they take on reality television in what is being billed as “a war of words and wit” (and a form of reality television as well).  Many of these programs, like shallow voyeurism, mesmerize and inspire shameless curiosity. It is a genre replete with confrontations and the dramatic, ranging from the breakup of friendships to the implosion of marriages.

Some exceptions seem to have risen from the clutter, finding favor with fans and critics alike with uplifting content. Yet the entire genre continues to spark controversy, and generate questions. What is the real impact of reality television? Is it just a passing fad? And what does the fascination reveal about our society, and the people who watch?

Halogen TV, a network dedicated to socially-conscious entertainment, invites you to join the conversation and decide where you stand on the issue during “Does Reality Television Do More Harm Than Good?”– a debate between team members from The Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society and The Parliamentary Debate Society of Columbia University. The event provides an opportunity for some of the finest minds in America to consider all sides of the issue, and, in the process, reflect on television in general, and its potential to shape our worldview.

Those in the New York area can join them tonight.  “Cocktails + Conversation” begins at 7:30pm on Tuesday, October 4th at The Crosby Street Hotel in New York City.  The debate will be available for viewing on the Halogen website by Friday.

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Television Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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What is ‘Real’ About Reality TV?

Posted on May 12, 2011 at 8:00 am

Kelefa Sanneh has a thoughtful essay in the New Yorker about “reality television,” how it developed, why it fascinates us, and how “real” it really is.  From the Loud family to “Jersey Shore,” they are based on the idea of peeking into the lives of real people in their homes and with their friends and families or putting them in highly artificial situations to see how they react.  Whether a “glamorous competition” or a “homely documentary,” “reality shows still provide a fat target for anyone seeking symptoms or causes of American idiocy; the popularity of unscripted programming has had the unexpected effect of ennobling its scripted counterpart.”

Sanneh discusses serious, even scholarly books about reality television.  Jennifer L. Pozner in Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV says that while they may appear to portray extremes and transgressive behavior, reality shows reinforce particular social norms.  The greedy are punished.  The deserving are rewarded.  The lost are found and the lesser are made more.  Sanneh finds some of this analysis reductive, noting that “one of the form’s greatest strengths” is that its stars “unlike their scripted counterparts, outlive their shows, and sometimes find ways to defy them.”

Perhaps because it is more focused, Makeover TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity by Brenda R. Weber, a professor of gender studies at Indiana University, is better able to support its conclusions.

Weber sees in these makeover programs a strange new world—or, more accurately, a strange new nation, one where citizenship is available only to those who have made the transition “from Before to After.” Weber notices that, on scripted television, makeovers are usually revealed to be temporary or unnecessary: “characters often learn that though a makeover is nice, they were really just fine in their Before states.” On reality television, by contrast, makeovers are urgent and permanent; “the After-body, narratively speaking, stands as the moment of greatest authenticity.” We have moved from the regressive logic of the sitcom, in which nothing really happens, to the recursive logic of the police procedural, in which the same thing keeps happening—the same detectives, solving and re-solving the same crimes.

Of course there is no such thing as “reality” television.  The camera angles, the selection of shots, the music, the pacing all influence our reaction as audience members.  And the Heisenberg principle states that molecules behave differently when they are observed.  So do people.  The people who are supposed to be so ordinary, so “real” become celebrities.  “Jersey Shore’s” Snooki, whose primary occupations seem to be drinking and tanning, was in the headlines for getting a higher speaker’s fee for a recent college appearance than the distinguished poet Maya Angelou.  This was shortly after Snooki was in the headlines for being in a brawl.  Kate Gosselin went from being just another mom with a few more kids than most to getting Jennifer Aniston-style coverage when her marriage broke up (for reasons not unrelated to the intense media pressure and shock of “stardom”).  The smart and lucky ones get book deals and product lines.  Others do not do as well.  That is one part of reality television that is really real.

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Television Understanding Media and Pop Culture

An American Family (Again): Cinema Verite, the Louds, and the Invention of ‘Reality’ TV

Posted on May 4, 2011 at 8:00 am

In 1971, a documentary film-maker named Craig Gilbert approached Pat Loud, a California mother of five, to ask her to allow him to observe her family the way anthropologist Margaret Mead observed the Samoans — and to do it on film, to be broadcast on public television.  300 hours of footage were edited down into twelve episodes, shown in 1973, and it became a sensation.  Part of it was the fascination of the unprecedented format.  This was the show that invented reality television, the idea of taking cameras (and camera operators) into the most personal moments of family life.  And part of it was what was on the screen.  The oldest son, Lance, came out publicly on camera, considered shocking in that era.  The Louds thought that they would be presenting the American dream, but it turned into the American nightmare when after months of filming, Pat told her husband, on camera, that she wanted a divorce.  They ended up on the cover of Newsweek as examples of the family break-ups of the era of self-actualization, open marriages, and what would later be called “The Me Decade.”  Nora Ephron wrote about Pat Loud’s post-series book, “It is impossible to read this book and not suspect that Craig Gilbert knew exactly what he was doing when he picked the Louds, knew after ten minutes with them and the clinking ice in their drinks that he had found the perfect family to show exactly what he must have intended to show all along — the emptiness of American family life.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sF3bs4xvbYg&feature=related

Nearly three decades later, the series is notable for its influence on shows from “The Real World” to “The Hills,” “Jersey Shore,” and all the Kardashians and Housewives  — and YouTube — and for the bigger and still-unresolved issues about how “real” reality television can be, especially when filmed over such a long period of time that not just the cameras but the crew become a part of the story.  Now the Loud experience has come full circle and been turned back into an excellent feature film on HBO with Diane Lane as Pat Loud and James Gandolfini as Craig Gilbert.  Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who sensitively portrayed another real-life character with a sometimes-distorted media biography in “American Splendor,” have produced a thoughtful story about the Louds and what they represented.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvpGwU5TFEU

 

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Television The Real Story
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