Competing With Reality Television

Now, I don’t want to seem like a crabby snob—I confess that I have been tempted by certain reality television programs and have snuck a peak or two in my weak moments. There are a few programs that I’d have to confess are somewhat of a guilty pleasure. BUT, as a parent, I think that reality television has taken misrepresenting the “real world” for our kids to new heights. Where we used to have sitcoms and dramas and soap operas like “Dallas” to try to convince kids that this is how the real world lived, at least a parent could say “It’s in the script!” (That was my own mother’s pat answer anytime we might confuse television with reality.) Now, with all these “reality” programs, our kids can actually get the idea that “real people live this way.” And I have to tell you, our meager, ordinary family existence isn’t comparing too favorably…

It’s such an interesting dilemma—the fact is that most of these programs really aren’t very good. They don’t have literary or artistic merit and, as I’ve pointed out to my teenagers, they are inhabited by people that we most likely would never choose as friends or individuals we’d ever want to be associated with in real life. So, why is America watching? And, what sort of messages are we sending our kids about reasonable human behavior? I’m not even talking admirable or inspirational behavior here since that is far too much to expect from “reality” television, I’m just talking about “reasonable” human behavior.

Now that I’ve griped a bit, I will say that I make an exception when it comes to reality programming. Public Broad Casting has done a periodic “series” in recent years where they broadcast “living history projects”. In programs such as “1900’s House,” “1940’s House” and last year’s “Texas Ranch House”—real families and individuals are chosen to live in a home or environment that has been retro-fitted to be as much like a certain period of history as possible. The family is then filmed as they strive to adapt and adjust to the realities of the time period. I LOVE those programs and my kids and I have really gotten into them. We occasionally check out some of the past programs at our local library to watch on video or DVD. They stimulate a great deal of conversation and we learn things about history that we would never have learned otherwise.

My point is, I think there is something positive and educational that can come from “reality” television—but most of the stuff on television is NOT adding any value to my kids’ life and actually, I’m willing to suggest, creating very un-real expectations about what things are like in the “real world.”

See Also: Wife Swap–Take a Look at How Another Family Lives and American Idol–Is it Appropriate for Kids?