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Protecting Our Children

Are Reality Shows Reality?

By JoAnn Hibbert Hamilton

Are reality television shows reality? The idea behind them that most teens accept is that they're watching real people experiencing real situations. There are supposedly no scripts, no actors, and no special effects.

And how popular are these shows? “Most months, at least one-third of the Top 15 series watched by 12- to 17-year olds are reality based,” according to Steven Isaac, author of “Exposing Reality TV's Dirty Little Secrets,” Plugged In Magazine, Focus on the Family, April, 2004.

Isaac points out that part of the attraction to these shows is the strong emotion they evoke, and then he states: “(A) wealth of new evidence suggests that what fans of the genre are really hooked on is what Blind Date executive producer Jay Renfroe calls ‘assisted reality.'” He goes on to say, “We have to assist reality. Reality's boring.” And Isaac says, “It has to be spiced up ... a lot.”

Isaac said the program “ Meet My Folks” moved contestants out of their homes and stuck them in swank mansions — creating the perception that they were wealthier, while assuring that there would always be an obligatory hot tub on the premises. “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett used body doubles to create what are called “beauty shots.” Contestant Stacey Stillman accused him of surreptitiously cajoling her competitors into voting her off the show.

In the same article, Isaac states that in “Joe Millionaire,” Sarah Kozer says producers manipulated her image to make it seem that she had done inappropriate acts that she had not actually done.

Evidently, a lot of the reality is edited out of the shows. Editing makes inferences that are not true. One trick is to edit genuine expressions and reactions out of sequence to create a desired affect.

Kozer said, “Imagine a conversation you might have with a friend, sibling, or spouse in which that person told you that her dog just died. You respond sympathetically, nodding and wincing at all the right moments; you even put your arm around her to show your support. Three hours later, feeling much better, she tells you a really funny joke, and you burst out laughing. Now picture a video editor callously splicing footage of that laughter into your earlier conversation about the dog. Sound extreme? It's exactly the kind of deception some reality producers use to vilify and demonize certain participants.”

“What you see is real,” says Dick Herlan, executive producer of Fox's now defunct “World's Wildest Police Videos,” but the order in which you see it isn't necessarily real. What it means isn't necessarily real. And the drama behind it isn't necessarily real.” Background music also radically alters meaning.

So does it matter that reality shows are not true? Isaac suggests teens ponder these statements: “If you are tempted, you know it. If you are oppressed or abused, you know it. But if you are deceived, you don't know it.” Is it really okay for the media to deceive the public? What are the long-term implications?

In today's world our teens need to understand that TV reality is seldom reality. What is reality? A game of pick-up hoops after school is real. A bonding conversation with a friend or parent is real. A trip to the Grand Canyon is real. We can live in the real world, experience the good, and feel good about life.


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