Bearing the Guilt of Our Guilty Pleasures

Guest Post by: Liz Roberts, Pre-Professional PR Practitioner

Most people nowadays know that reality television is not an accurate representation of reality. It frequently depicts scripted versions of ridiculous girl fights or tearful confessions. Yet these types of shows continue to be extremely popular, especially among the larger TV networks.

There is something rather addicting about watching everyday people compete for fame and fortune, or even snap at each other over seemingly shallow matters. The dysfunction of reality TV is like a train wreck; it’s horrible to watch, but hard to look away from. Seeing people fall apart has become a major form of entertainment in America.

10 Roberts tiarasWithin the last few years, the focus has shifted from adults humiliating themselves on national television to children doing the same thing. A prime example of this shift is the popular TLC show Toddlers and Tiaras and its spinoff series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. These shows depict young children (almost always girls) getting dressed up with loads of makeup and hair extensions and parading around for judges. They also show these kids being kids, acting silly, throwing tantrums, and saying things that seem strange and often humorous to the adults who observe them. The humorous nature of these shows gives them enormous commercial appeal and entertainment value. But what are the ethical implications of using children for entertainment? How far is too far?

Many ethical decisions come into question when dealing with children in entertainment, but the biggest may be why so many people find dysfunctional children so entertaining in the first place. It’s like corrupting the innocence of a young person without their knowledge or consent is something to be proud of.

10 Roberts BooThere are other dilemmas as well, such as issues of privacy and child labor. Some reality shows film for hours, getting footage of embarrassing meltdowns or private family moments. Children can rarely decide what is put out about them; that responsibility falls on their parents and the show’s producers. Also, even though they are encouraged to go about their “normal” lives when the cameras are rolling, the pressure of having a film crew infiltrate aspects of everyday life can create great psychological strain on a child.

Since tantrums and foul language bump up ratings, producers want children to perform for the camera in a way that will entertain the audience. This belief encourages the children on these reality TV shows to misbehave. If they think they have to act crazy or humiliate themselves to get attention and approval, how will they behave as adults? Just look at former child stars Lindsay Lohan or Amanda Bynes.

What is our responsibility as media consumers? Can we ignore unethical practices in the name of entertainment? I don’t think so. Someone needs to stand up for the children (and even adult) reality TV stars and put an end to the exploitation. For the average media consumer, taking a stand may be as simple as clicking the off button on the remote.

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