Another Perspective

As the World Churns

What's wrong with a little reality TV?

By 4.18.08

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If you had cameras following you around 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, would they catch you only in your greatest moments? Would they find out that you are the most wonderful person in the world? Would you want your kids to see every minute of that tape?

Probably not. Yet as the recent writers' strike furthered the growth of reality television, complaints about this "trash" TV have grown alongside it. TV based on real life? Trash!

It's bizarre that reality shows are characterized so poorly ("they're destroying the innocence of our nation's children!"), when actually sit-coms, soap operas, and talk shows set an example far worse, despite their teams of talented writers. Reality TV is simply real -- and that is scary.

Those who so harshly criticize reality TV obviously have not seen the episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians where the three sisters see a homeless man eating out of a garbage dumpster behind their fancy clothing shop. They take him to their Los Angeles mansion where they give him a shower and clothes to wear.

But this is not enough. As the homeless man smiles in sincere appreciation, they notice that he has no teeth, so they take him to the dentist to get a set of dentures and then to a hotel to rest until homeless shelters opened the following day.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO if you found a homeless man digging in the dumpster? I tried to imagine myself in that situation and I think I would have ignored him -- at best. Perhaps I would have even told him to leave, although he had nowhere to go.

That episode has certainly changed the way I treat the beggars on the street outside of my apartment in the heart of our nation's capital. Treating others with compassion is a lesson that is not drilled into our heads nearly enough -- and you certainly won't learn it from soap operas and talk shows.

Real life teaches a better lesson than a million public service announcements. If people mess up on a reality show, they pay the consequences for it -- just like life. Maybe you thought it was trash with Khloe Kardashian got a DWI, but that episode didn't make DWIs seem normal or "cool," it made jail seem horribly frightening.

I guess these critics of reality TV have also never seen an episode of Run's House, where the members of Reverend Run's family work together to make each other's lives just a little easier. Isn't that what families are supposed to do?

Run DMC's daughter, 24-year-old Vanessa Simmons, is a budding star on The Guiding Light, she and her sister Angela have started a successful clothing line together, and she has a vibrant social life, yet still she finds time to help her 11-year-old brother with his homework. Vanessa is, by all definitions, "cool," yet she doesn't do drugs and she treats her siblings and her parents well -- can she really be real?

Russell Simmons, the reverend's brother, tells JoJo, the teenage son, "If you're rich spiritually, you've made it." Is that what sit-coms, soap operas, and talk shows tell people? No, they say if you have a big house and a nice car, then you've made it. If you can sit in a coffee shop all day or spend the majority of your time focusing on the so-called drama in your life, if you don't have to worry about working hard and getting what you deserve -- well, then you've made it.

A quick trip to L.A. makes me understand why people think television is the reason everyone wants to get rich without working. There, people proudly exude a rich, over-the-top lifestyle, all while playing the game that they have nothing to do except spend money. However, reality TV shows their entire lifestyle -- it's not all easy.

PERHAPS YOU HAVEN'T seen the aspiring models on America's Most Smartest Model learn the thorny lesson that it's not enough to be beautiful -- you have to be smart too -- even to model.

This is not a show that just quizzes models as the audience laughs at their idiotic answers. Each episode shows how being intelligent is critical in the modeling world, whether in networking (which is essential no matter what you do), marketing yourself, or in getting the perfect shot in a short amount of time and under budget.

Certainly not every moment of reality television should form one of the guiding principles of your life, and perhaps it's not all good -- but it's real. Real people helping the homeless is better than watching fictional friends who seem to never go to work. It's better than watching Dr. Phil talk about Britney Spears, and it's certainly better than watching the latest episode of As the World Turns.

Perhaps that's what scares us most about reality television -- it is real. It is reality for someone, and maybe -- just maybe -- it isn't that different from our own lives.

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About the Author

Russ Ferguson is a lawyer and writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.