The Reality Dilemma

People either love or despise reality television. The dilemma is that this form of entertainment remains socially relevant and informs Americans of their values. Perceptions of popular culture and our assumptions about our values are influenced by television and the manner that it echoes our own behaviors and pastimes.

There are realities on the other side of the T.V. screen: At a time when women and minorities continue to suffer from massive unemployment and lack of medical coverage, (even those who classify as the working poor—working two and three jobs) the mundane reality in this country is that the division between the rich and the poor continues to rise. Three percent of the population continue to enjoy 97 percent of the country’s wealth, with a dying middle-class. The disparity between the rich and the poor has never been greater than it is today, with employers regularly finding ways around giving their employees medical insurance. I remember when all full-time workers had medical insurance along with a sense of hope for themselves and their families futures.

T.V. has been a part of these changing realities since it first came into American living rooms in 1947. The insidious shifts in our regard for human values is a slow and unconscious process and sometimes it takes years of observation to recognize that a shift has taken place. Reality television plays a direct and powerful role in this subtle and unseen dynamic.

With all the reality T.V. shows currently on the air, or previously on the air, from The Biggest Loser, to the various Survivor reality shows, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Hell’s Kitchen, and The Apprentice, one thing is certain—honesty and sportsmanship are now no longer in vogue. Now, the biggest winner is the biggest liar or the biggest abuser. The person who can lie the most effectively, berate and cruelly abuse the most colorfully, con and deceive the most beautifully is now the ideal. To be cunning, heartless and completely selfish and self-oriented is now the new standard for success in America.

Reality T.V. should really be renamed what it is: HUMILIATE YOU TELEVISION. The most epic and public humiliation seems to be the ideal ambition in the world of today, as expressed by reality television, and the most repugnant and immoral liar, the hero. Are we surprised that our nation has become transformed into a country of angry young people who want nothing more than to exact revenge from those they perceive to have betrayed or humiliated them? Forty years ago there was no reality T.V., in today’s definition of it. The focus on disdainful social rejection—“YOU’RE FIRED!”and cruel public humiliation was not present in The Dating Game or on the Candid Camera television programs of my youth.

The T.V. programs of my youth came from a simpler time, when we had as many, if not more guns in American homes, and no concept of what a “school shooting” was. There was a time when the term did not exist.

Reality television may seem innocuous to some, but its gripping influence is subtle and tenacious; there is nothing innocuous or harmless about the manner that it conveys human indifference and dispassionate callousness through verbal abuse and direct rejection.

The message reality television offers young, malleable minds is extremely troubling. I know I’m not the only person who sees and recognizes this dynamic. When you watch reality television, you are confronted by a performance of characters who are straining to connive their “team members”; that they are all struggling for the cash prize or the dream-job signals a disturbing shift in our morality.

The focus on deception, on fooling and tricking those closest to you, is a clear indicator of a larger dynamic that is occurring in American culture. A shift and a clear deterioration in the moral climate of our country. Reality television plays a significant role in this shift and moral decay. I suggest that you sit out of the next round of The Bachelor.

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