My daughter doesn't watch a lot of television, which is why I became a tad bit suspicious the other day when she told me, within the total time lapse of about an hour, that I needed to buy an elliptical/treadmill cross-training machine, a no-more-tears detangling brush, and an amazingly painless hair removal system. Sure enough, she had made herself quite the little nest on the couch in Papa and Nana's TV room. The commercial producers should be satisfied that their selling techniques are working well with the nine-to-12 age group.
I continue to be struck by the phrase "Reality Television." I mean, give me a break. In the day and age of Photoshop, voice-overs, and numerous editing tools, who can seriously believe that anything on TV is real? Everyone is out to make a buck, and sensationalism sells. Here's the deal (spoiler alert): Reality Television is anything but. Sure, the casts aren't filled with actors reading from carefully written scripts, but they are people following directions, taking suggestions, filming retakes, and essentially allowing themselves to be used as vessels of entertainment for the masses who find amusement in the mishaps, squabbles, and hardships of others.
I have to say that I did enjoy watching the second season of Survivor. I hadn't watched the first, but I recall hearing about it from those who did. The concept of Reality Television wasn't something that I could really wrap my head around: I remember questioning why anyone would spend time watching a show that wasn't scripted. What could possibly happen that people would care about? I have a great appreciation for well-written, well-acted shows, and certainly didn't feel the need to witness people eating rats. Nevertheless, when Survivor: Australia debuted, I jumped on the bandwagon and became a groupie.
I, in part, could understand why people were addicted: the show was new and fresh and unpredictable. I looked forward to the competitions and elaborate rewards, and I don't think I once saw the partaking of rodent a la carte (although I could have blocked those scenes from my memory).
I watched the show for the next few seasons but became disenchanted after a while. It seemed like everything that I had liked about it -- the newness/freshness/unpredictability -- was gone. I recognize that one must have a strategy in a game that only has one winner (and a cool million certainly isn't a shabby prize), but the constant broken promises, backstabbing, and bullying wore me down. I was yearning to be entertained, but not at the expense of people being sacrificed for show ratings and commercialism.
Now, 15-plus years later, Reality Television dominates the airwaves. At any time of the day or night you can watch people eat rodents, or shoot ducks, or have a colonoscopy, or get a tattoo, or frost a cake. I don't think that there is a reality show that doesn't exist, except maybe the televising of live executions. "Give it time," my cynical voice whispers.
I don't have a problem with consenting adults who choose to participate in these shows, they make their own decisions. I do think about the children involved, however. What must their lives be like? Can you imagine having your childhood, and every private and precious moment that comes along with it, witnessed by millions of people? These children are exploring the world and figuring out how to be human beings, all while having cameras and microphones and producers in their faces. The reality of children on Reality TV is that their perception of life is going to be warped. Who is teaching the Gosselin children, and Honey Boo Boo, and all those toddlers in tiaras to function like normal kids? A quick Google search will provide you with numerous articles by psychologists chiming in on that question.
The idea of kids growing up in front of cameras hasn't escaped the notice of authors looking for new writing material. Two recently published books for young adult audiences focus on just this topic: What happens when the children of reality shows get to tell their side of the story?
A.S. King, in her novel Reality Boy (2013), introduces us to the cleverly named Gerald Faust, a teenage boy still reeling from his time spent on a reality show when he was the tender age of five. Immediately labeled by producers as a "problem child," Gerald became increasingly more angry that no one recognized that his sister was a psychopath trying to kill him and that the nanny was a no-name actress just biding time before her big break. But editors only show what they want to be seen. Gerald's response -- taking a crap on the dining room table. The viewers' response -- calling him "Crapper" for the past decade. How does Gerald escape a legacy like that?
Heather Demetrios' novel Something Real (2014) follows Chloe, a.k.a. Bonnie Baker, the star of "Baker's Dozen." On film since literally the day she was born, Bonnie finally got her parents to cancel the show after the stress nearly killed her. Now, four years later and living under the name Chloe Baker, Bonnie feels that she has the life of anonymity that she's always craved. Too bad her mom didn't bother mentioning that she signed Bonnie back up for the show.
A fan of Reality Television or not, these fictional characters will give you a glimpse into just how "unreal" it really is. As humorous as these books are, the sad reality of Reality TV, of course, is that it exploits very real children.