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Generation Reality TV: should someone save them from themselves?

mini-snooki-situation-and-jwowwLet me tell you a story. My first-year in college I took what became my all-time favorite course in political philosophy, of all subjects. The professor, Dennis Dalton, was a dynamic lecturer but most importantly I remember him and what he taught me about life’s pressures, our responsibilities and kindness.

See, his classes were packed and were seen as “guts” or easily-passed courses because, at least when I took them, the exams were entirely open book AND Professor Dalton (D.D.) gave you the exam questions ahead of time. I would spend my three-hour exam time transcribing my pre-written exam answers into the test booklet. Needless to say, I did very well. But 20 years later, I can still recall what we learned about Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, J.J. Rousseau and Gandhi. British history, not so much.

What stuck with me most of all was D.D.’s passionate explanation of his exam methods. He once caught a student cheating and that student was then expelled. He understood the pressures we as college students in the late 80s/early 90s felt, driven to do very reckless things like cheat. Stupid actions that could potentially alter the courses of our lives forever. He understood that under the influence of these pressures we could exercise very bad judgment. He knew we were young and possibly very vulnerable. So, he eliminated the pressures. We would still have the exams and would still be learning but there was no way we could “cheat.”

That right there was the best thing I learned in four years.

I still think of D.D.’s wise words and of the pressures we feel every day as humans. How vulnerable we can be to our own emotions. How not all of us are as strong to face the exciting but dangerous temptations that cross our paths. How we can make bad decisions in the face of those pressures.

Interestingly I seem to be reminded of this every time I watch a reality TV show. How can you not?

Almost twenty years have passed since the first reality show, The Real World, aired on television. We all are well-aware now of the pitfalls of being cast on these shows. Yeah, there have been a handful of success stories from of these shows (like Bethenny Frankel and Elizabeth Hasselbeck), but really the big winners are the networks and executive producers. As you know, editing footage to can alter the image of reality show cast members to fit story lines that producers want to develop.

It makes you wonder why regular people still play along. I guess they think that they’ll be smart enough to outwit producers? Or, are they really that hungry and starved for attention that they are willing to make themselves vulnerable?

And, that is our gut reaction. To point fingers at the reality show cast members, figuratively shake them by the shoulders and ask WHYYYYYY? Yes, most of them are adults.

But, with D.D. on my shoulder I can’t help but feel a bit of sympathy for them. The camera and all the media attention and potential fame (unfortunately most likely infamy?) is very alluring. They are only human.

But aren’t the networks who develop and broadcast these shows complicit too? I’ve seen some limited criticism pointed at them, but the vast majority is pointed at the participants. It’s easy for a network to shrug off responsibility on to the reality show cast, all of whom sign release forms.

The networks have shareholders and financial pressures that I’m SURE play into the equation. But, what about the other stakeholders, like the next generation who is watching the the adult women of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills bully each other like mean girls or the girls of Toddlers & Tiaras become household names because they are throwing tantrums and are all dolled up (or is that Jersey Shore)?

And then of course, is the other question… how complicit are we the viewers of these reality TV shows? Does America need a Professor Dennis Dalton to save it from itself?

 

Picture source: BuzzFeed

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