Tags: 'Reality' | Child | Abuse

'Reality' TV is Child Abuse

Monday, 25 October 2004 12:00 AM

The only thing that worries me more about this despicable new genre is that there is an audience for it. And I believe folks who watch these shows should be ashamed of their enjoyment of the pain and degradation of others.

I for one take a certain pride that I haven’t and won’t view these shows. My perspective is based solely on the shows’ premises. That someone might construe (distort?) one particular moment as touching, meaningful or educational, I still believe the basic premises are despicable and destructive.

The reality format is at its most abusive, however, in its molestation of the family dynamic and its gross exploitation of children. “Motherhood and apple-pie” is disdained in our popular culture, while the Gotti and Osbourne “families” and the newer Trading Spouses and Wife Swap are elevated as “reality.”

My reality check about families as I was growing up included Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best and The Donna Reed Show. Alternative families were represented by overcoming the tragedy of deceased family members as in Bachelor Father or Lassie.

Say what you want about these shows being “unrealistic,” they were entertaining and often inspiring, and the plots generally resulted in better understanding, communication and affection between the parents and between the generations as the children confronted “issues” and received guidance, support, and consequences from the responsible adults in their lives who generally role-modeled respectable behaviors.

That many people don’t aspire to living their lives with similar dignity and responsibility does not make these shows “unreality,” it makes those folks individuals who self-centeredly fall short of responsible behavior. Don’t get rid of the positive role model because people fall short of emulating the better qualities being displayed.

True, Ozzie and Harriett had their very own children on with them – as themselves. Herein is the opportunity for exploitation, yet no one could possibly accuse them of that. Although it is likely that some of the family crises and issues dramatized with humor each week may have come from “real life circumstances,” the episodes were scripted and edited, with neither the children nor their parents represented in any way which could bring ongoing personal shame or hurt.

The children of the Osbournes and Gottis are certainly not in that category, nor are the children in Wife Swap and Trading Spouses.

The children in any and all of these family reality shows are being abused and I can’t understand why Child Protective Services does not see fit to act to protect these children from the juvenile and selfishly exploitive motivations of their parents who are using their children like circus animals, to entertain the base instincts of an audience.

I think we should consider as “abuse”: having a minor child’s personal home life exposed on television for entertainment purposes; having a minor child’s inherent right to privacy breached…by their own parents!; having a minor child’s normal behaviors and emotional responses to family and life stresses perverted by the needs of producers and parents for “good television” – children will, of course, be pressured to be entertaining - that immediately distorts normal dynamics; the minor child exposed publicly and on tape.

This will certainly come back to haunt them in the future as people will form opinions about them which are based on these contrived and “unreal” extraordinary circumstances. Their futures likely will be negatively impacted by this exposure and humiliation.

Bottom line, the minor child’s welfare is clearly not the top concern of their parents, who are exploiting the dependency, love and innocence of their own children for an opportunity to be “celebrities.”

Please don’t give me the argument that any money that might be earned from the television experience or interviews or appearances, book deals, or endorsements are for their college fund. That would mean that damage we do to children today is okay as long as there is some long term financial benefit.

It is not enough to argue that these children have their parents’ permission – parents cannot legally pimp their children, yet this is precisely what is going on here.

The privacy and dignity of these children have been stripped from them. They are hawked by cameras as their so-called parents push the envelope farther than any responsible, loving, protective parent should, in an attempt to gain ratings and increase celebrity status. These children are left to deal with disturbing private matters in a public forum with the sole purpose being entertainment.

Certainly, there can be no pretense at education or spiritual elevation. This is pure, unconscionable, abuse of parental power and influence.

While some of these children may defend their situations (as abused children usually do), will they be so sanguine in years to come, when as adults trying to make their way in life, these images come back to shame them? Does anyone think of the future for these children? These children cannot really give informed consent because they are too young to see the long-term picture and to weigh the potential impact on their psyche, reputation, and opportunities. That has always been the job of their parents and other responsible adults. Who is doing the job now? No one?

I long for my future grandchildren to be able to turn on their televisions to see a parent lovingly pointing out the realities of life to their child (who probably got him/herself into some sort of pickle at school) in a way which inspires my grandchildren to trust and feel admiration and comfort with their parents – like I saw with Leave it to Beaver. That is the reality we should be supporting and emulating because that is the better route towards turning our own children into decent, functional, creative, contributing, happy human beings.

Reality exists in many forms; why pick the most degenerate to reward?


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The only thing that worries me more about this despicable new genre is that there is an audience for it.And I believe folks who watch these shows should be ashamed of their enjoyment of the pain and degradation of others. I for one take a certain pride that I haven't...
Monday, 25 October 2004 12:00 AM
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