05 November 2011

Where The Wild Things Are

Television apparently has a tendency to reinforce negative stereotypes among young women!  Who knew?

No, they also apparently teach impressionable young women to “expect a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their own lives, and measure their worth primarily by their physical appearance,” with girls who watch reality TV shows believing by a higher percentage than their non-reality-TV-watching counterparts that “gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls” (78 percent to 54 percent), “girls often have to compete for a guy's attention” (74 percent to 63 percent), and that they’re happier when they have a boyfriend or significant other (49 percent to 28 percent). In addition, 72 percent of girls who watch a lot of reality TV also say they spend a lot of time trying to look pretty—with 38 percent saying that a girl’s overall value is based on how she looks—versus the 42 percent of non-viewers. Faced with that data, you can really only draw one conclusion: Girls who don’t watch reality TV are total uggos who will never get a boyfriend. Tell everyone!

Fundamentally, reality TV is anything but.  It is simply cheap drama, marketed as real, and intended to be nothing more than entertainment.  That’s simply the nature of television.  Reality TV is simply entertainment, intended to be used as a way to sell ads.  Reality TV is popular among network execs because it tends to have higher-than-average margins since it’s cheap to produce.

Plus, as Jon & what’s-her-face plus who-gives-a-flying-squirrel—among other reality shows—has amply demonstrated, people act different around a camera, aware that their behavior, as well as the behavior of those around also in the sight of the camera, is going to be available for all to see, and so they adjust their behavior to make themselves as presentable as possible, while also casting aspersions on those around them, aware that those around them can’t really react in a way that ends with them looking better.  Thus, reality TV is full of petty dramas, narcissistic asides, and manipulation and guile.  But, because this is presented as reality, those watching it are apparently inclined to believe the billing.

Now, those who claim that television doesn’t have influence over anyone need to remember one thing:  the only reason television shows exist is because network execs tell companies that thirty seconds of ad space is enough to cause viewers to buy their product.  In essence, network execs claim that that they can influence viewers, and in a very short period of time.  (However, this in no way tells us whether viewers desire to be manipulated by that which they watch for entertainment.)  To say that TV shows are just entertainment, and don’t influence anyone is a farce, and terrible one at that.

Now, I don’t think one can be certain about a causal link between the viewing of reality TV and a higher-than-random tendency toward, in a word, drama, and the causes thereof.  It may be that girls who have a tendency to believe that they need a boyfriend or need to compete for a guy’s attention will then have a tendency to watch shows that encourage those beliefs.  It may the other way around, where girls who watch shows that perpetuate those beliefs cause women to buy into them.  It may be simple correlation.  It may be a self-reinforcing feedback loop.  But, at any rate, there is some sort of link, even if merely correlative, and the safest thing to do would simply be to boycott the sponsors of reality TV shows until all reality shows are removed from the airwaves.  This may or may not make girls less shrewish, but I think that complete absence of reality TV will make the experiment worth a try.

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