Is reality TV worsening America’s class problems




I’ve had a pet theory for years now that so-called “reality television” is making Americans meaner and more biased.

When I say “reality TV” I include all those talk shows going back to the early 1990s, and all those real-life court shows as well.

Is it just me, or does everyone on these shows seem to be under-educated, blue collar, petty, and more often than not, a minority?

And the hosts, of course, are almost always educated and white.

I don’t have any science or data to prove my point. So I’m not going to name names. But every time I stumble up on those shows, I can’t help but feel that the “entertainment” value of the shows is watching what idiots the guests are.

I started thinking about this again lately when I was writing last week about MTV’s new “reality” show mocking Greek-Americans. The show, called “Growing Up Greek,” per the preview and MTV’s own description, seems to be an attempt to smear Greeks in the same way the networks made a laughing-stock of New Jersey generally, and Italian-Americans specifically, with its earlier show “Jersey Shore.”

MTV's "Growing Up Greek."

MTV’s “Growing Up Greek.”

One thing you learn early on as a writer is that even though something is true, you don’t necessarily include it in your story. Why? Because it can skew the story, and send the reader along a line of thinking you never intended.

For example, some gay men are in fact effeminate. But if you create a TV comedy based on a ridiculously effeminate gay man, some in the gay community might understandably be upset by what would appear to be a network profiting off of, and reinforcing, a negative stereotype.

The same probably with MTV’s new show about Greeks who apparently inter-breed (a lot), and have an insatiable hankering for violence. (Interestingly, of all the insults I had to face growing up Greek in America, no one ever once suggested that we were into incest or particularly violent. Kudos to MTV’s originality.)

The cast of MTV's Italian-American reality show "Jersey Shore." (http://www.shutterstock.com/s/snooki/search.html?page=1&inline=122367244)

The cast of MTV’s Italian-American reality show “Jersey Shore.” (Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com)

Back to those reality talk and court shows. I’m not saying that race in America wouldn’t be a problem if the shows weren’t on the air. I am concerned, however, that the shows seem to be based on mocking a particular class of citizen: the working class. And, more often than not, it sure seems like a lot of people of color make it on as guests.

In the end, you could argue that these shows are simply reflecting the biases already in society. But I don’t buy it. I’ve worked long enough in communications, public relations and the media to know the impact television and video can have on the public mind. TV isn’t just a reflection of who we are. TV shapes who are.  And whether that’s for the better or worse is anyone’s guess. But I’m having a hard time believing that Amos & Andy TV does anything but harm.


CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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