Are We Allowing Reality TV Shows To Rot Our Brains And Make Us Stupid?
Do you watch at least one reality TV program every week? It might not be something as mind-numbing as MTV’s Jersey Shore, VH1′s Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business or Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New Jersey. It might be Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch or Animal Planet’s Whale Wars or even just something like LeBron James‘s ESPN special The Decision last week (which, by the way, I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of—James’s camp would be crazy not to find a way to cash in on the 10 million viewers it garnered by putting together some sort of “behind-the-scenes” clips…but I digress). Whatever the case, there’s a pretty good chance that if you’re like most Americans, you’re watching at least one reality TV show per week. At least.
And that’s a huge problem. As my DrJays.com comrade Andreas Hale pointed out last week, reality TV programming has desensitized and distracted a large majority of the country when it comes to current events. Few people knew the verdict in the Oscar Grant case was released late last week—but just about everyone knew Bron Bron was going to play for the Miami Heat. Reality TV makes the “reality” of certain situations seem real, which is good enough for someone looking to kick back and blow some time at the end of the day. But it’s not good enough for a country that’s always fought to stay in-the-know when it comes to current events.
Sadly, It doesn’t end there. Reality TV show producers also now being forced to push the boundaries and take things further and further in order to attract viewers. As a result, shows like truTV’s forthcoming reality show Hardcore Pawn (Nice name…Sigh!)—a show based around the daily happening inside a Detroit pawn shop—are popping up. To ride off the success of History Channel’s Pawn Stars, the show was greenlit and promises to show “the real Detroit,” a city that’s riddled with high crime rates and an economy that’s crumbled over the course of the last decade.
It’s a show that promises to show the real Detroit, but in reality, it will probably show whatever it takes to get decent ratings. And Detroit will continue to suffer either way. Just like FOX’s American Idol, NBC’s The Apprentice, and even CBS’s Survivor (the original reality TV show), today’s reality shows aren’t really about reality at all. They’re simply stop-gaps in peoples’ days—a way for them to escape their own realities without burning out their brain cells. Only problem? That’s exactly what they’re doing.
Of course, the solution to this problem is harder than you might think. In today’s world, the news isn’t the news anymore. Every news channel out there seems to give a different perspective of what’s really happening in the world. Therefore, to get your fill of “real” news, you would have to spend hours watching different news programs, reading stories and checking blogs to stay updated. Finding out what’s going on in “reality” isn’t quite as hard. Just turn on MTV, VH1, Bravo or even the History Channel at prime-time, sit and watch for 30 minutes and you’ll be able to break it down for everyone at your office water cooler tomorrow.
But that’s no excuse. In this country, we need to be able to identify important stories like the Oscar Grant verdict, the BP oil spill and the earthquake in Haiti (remember that? Yeah, it didn’t just disappear, folks). We need to be able form an opinion on important issues, know what’s going on in the country (and the world!) and take stands on things that we believe in. Not just know which girl Chad Ochocinco was feeling on The Ultimate Catch.
Does that mean we all need to turn off reality TV forever? Of course not. It has a place on TV, just like sports, late-night talk shows and cartoons do. All I’m saying is that it’s gotten to the point where if something’s not on reality TV—and it’s actually part of the “reality” that’s going on out there in the world—it doesn’t dominate the headlines of blogs. It doesn’t get talked about on Twitter. It doesn’t make your Facebook status. And news organizations stop covering it as a result.
Try doing one small thing about it today. Instead of reading five blogs about Kim Kardashian, read a single opinion column about Oscar Grant (here’s one I’d obviously recommend—Andreas has been doing his thing). Instead of watching two hours of reality TV, watch one and a half hours and spend the other 30 minutes watching CNN. Instead of calling your best friend and saying, “Can you believe what happened on The Hills tonight?” call him or her and say, “Can you believe that the oil spill still hasn’t been fixed?”
It just might help you see a whole new type of reality.