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realityI didn’t read the first part of The Wrap’s reality-TV series dealing with contestant suicides, having a tempered interest in the meaning  behind rare occurrences. But I was fascinated with the second part: Win or Lose, Reality Show Competitors Often End Up With Severe Problems.

I appreciate their thoughtful piece and have excerpted pieces below.

People don’t have any idea what it’s going to feel like to have so much of their life exposed to the camera, said [Dr. Michelle Callahan] …”Your persona on the show extends back to your real life. “If you’re on ‘The Biggest Loser’ and the show ends and you’re driving down the street and you stop at Popeye’s, people are gonna say, ‘Hey, you still look fat.’ Your weight issue has become public.”

“We live in an age of disposable people,” [Dr. Jamie Huysman] told TheWrap. “The producers don’t care about the players, they care about the sponsors who want eyeballs, confrontations, meltdowns … That’s why the highest-rated shows are the ones where people get crushed emotionally.

No one tells these people it all will be edited, not just to shorten the running time but to manipulate character development. Character defects may be exaggerated simply by editing down their good qualities.” Some contestants end up being the good guy; others end up as the villains.

“Just like a dramatic series, the producers decide before taping who will wear the white hat and whom the black. The problem is, we all are made up of good and not so good qualities and the contestants don’t get to choose which qualities they want displayed to the audience.”

I am an enthusiastic fan of quite a few reality series.

I love Project Runway, Chopped, Top Chef, Top Design, The Restaurant, Kitchen Nightmares, Hell’s Kitchen, Iron Chef and I have a place in my heart for such fare as Millionaire Matchmaker, Real Housewives of [XYZ], the Bachelor series (did I have to admit that?!), The Cougar, The Hills (minus Speidi), and The Pickup Artist (for sarcastic, gawking reasons, I swear!), The Stagers.

Because of that, I’m going to take a few minutes today to think about how I “consume” reality show contestants, and recommit to nonjudgment of the  people behind the characters the producers create. Besides the contestants, I’d argue the viewers can develop a kind of PTSD of their own: Are we being encouraged to become judgmental, mean jerks who thrill at the sight of bad behavior?

I’m not sure anyone wins when we oversimplify people into cardboard cutouts. I’m not winning if I am training myself to see everyone in 2 dimensions, and I know what happens onscreen has offscreen implications for me as well as the contestants.

After all, with dramatic series, movies, and novels, complexity of motive and character is what draws us in every bit as much as the recognizable character traits. Balancing our love of spectacle with compassion and empathy is a better idea than demonizing someone who doesn’t exist.

Case in point:

Jade Goody, a 21-year-old dental nurse from London who died from cancer earlier this year, was dubbed “the most hated woman in the United Kingdom” during her 2002 “Big Brother” stint and was routinely called out for being bitchy, two-faced and fat.

A newspaper columnist wrote, “Jade is one of the most hated women on British TV and life will be hard for her when she leaves the house but don’t feel sorry for her … vote the pig out.”

And she wasn’t the only one to be targeted: A 15-year-old who had the misfortune to look something like Jade was beaten up after being mistaken for the contestant.

More good reading, fodder for thought:

WKU Herald: COMMENTARY: Reality TV has real problems
The Atlantic: What the snobs don’t understand: The Case for Reality TV

In a serious mood, ready to entertain some heavier concepts?

Ethics & Reality TV: Should We Really Watch?


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