Reality TV: Real Punishment

Hot sauce mom convicted and possible jail sentence and fine is on the horizon.  One does not have to imagine the promo for this “reality” segment.  You just need to read Dr. Phil’s webpage:

“Can this stressed-out mom get the guidance she needs to control her temper and reform her discipline techniques?” asked the show’s website, teasing the episode. “Can she establish a bond with her son? And, do her actions constitute child abuse? … It’s an intense Dr. Phil you don’t want to miss!”

After the segment aired in November, a new audience was found online.  Everyone wanted to see the mother pour hot sauce in the child’s mouth and then drag him to a cold shower.  She says she struggled to correct the boys bad behavior.  She was trying to be a good mother.  She did it by punishing him by pouring hot sauce down his throat, emailing Dr. Phil to be on his show for help, and sending a video of her parenting skills.  She did it for money and nothing more.

Reality shows mission is to generate conflict, and conflict generates ratings.  What did she hope her future would be after putting her private and parenting life on view for the world to see.  Did she see herself selling feminine hygiene products, hemorrhoid medicine, cereal to the mass audience.  That may sound cynical.  But the real cynicism is embodied in a TV show’s decision to treat people’s actual lives and misfortunes as entertainment.

This brand of television is the moral equivalent of those “bum fight” videos where homeless men are paid to fight on camera and the video posted online.  There is something similarly predatory in searching out these trouble people, these drunks and narcissists, these self-centered, superficial, fake and perpetual adolescents with daddy, esteem or anger management issues, and paying them to let us watch as they implode. There is something immoral in the watching, too.   We have to take responsibility too.

There has been a death too.  Remember Russel Armstrong?  He hanged himself.  He was bashed continually on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and could do nothing about it.  It made ratings.  We have had meltdown after meltdown.  Jon and Kate Gosselin got divorced. Singer Fantasia Barrino tried to commit suicide.

The hot sauce mom posted videos on YouTube.  She was becoming a video star.  All the time saying she needed help with her adoptive son.  Please.

What is really disturbing about this is that we don’t seem to notice or care.  Television has made us that way.  All television.  Even news programs are about entertainment.  It has become commonplace.  It is all we want.  Television knows that.  Each day a new “reality” series is born.  We have sold our souls.  We complain about the immorality of politicians, but don’t see our own.

These shows are ratings stars because we made them so.  We can say there isn’t anything else on television, but that isn’t true.  We have reduced human beings to fictional entities that are disposal.  We live in a disposal society.

We have trivialized life.  We celebrate the pain and anguish of other people.  We have turned it into sport.



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