Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ethics is Reality Television

This week I decided to try a different approach with the topic of ethics. Instead of evaluating and analyzing the ethics of a print advertisment, I decided to take on the topic of ethics in reality television as a whole.

A reality television show thrives on drama. There would be no reason to watch if drama wasn’t created through fighting, feuding, breakdowns or bad decisions. As a viewer, reality television can serve as a guilty pleasure. There is a split between the idea of voyeurism and the joy of watching drama being creating and unfolding right before our eyes.
Due to the increasing success and popularity of reality television, producers are beginning to see exactly what the recipe is for a successful television show and they are going all out in order to bring that to the viewer. There are hundreds of different types of reality TV shows on hundreds of different networks.
Castmate "Snooki" getting arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct

Jersey Shore, (perhaps the most influential reality TV show as of recently) premiered on December 3, 2009 and is still going strong. The series follows eight housemates who began by spending their summer at the Jersey Shore (they have since traveled to Miami and Italy) and chronicles their drunken escapades, fights inside and outside of the house, sexual encounters and even arrests. The show has no filter. It has aired everything from dirty pranks to one female roommate (the infamous “Snooki”) being punched in the face by a grown man. While the show’s ratings have soared and the cast members are now receiving millions of dollars each season there is no question that the show is successful. However, due to the lack of ethics and values the show is also extremely toxic.

Jersey Shore castmates drinking before a night out
On the Jersey Shore, it has been reported that the cast mates are not allowed to drive after a drink (taxi cabs are provided for them) and they are allowed to return home at any point if the series begins to become too overwhelming (“Sammi Sweetheart” returned home for a short period of time after a break-up with her boyfriend, cast mate Ronnie Margo and her roommate “Vinny Guadagnino” returned home to be treated for anxiety). While these ethical demands are met, other reality TV shows take a different approach.
Drug use shown on Intervention
On the hit A&E reality television show “Intervention,” producers act more like witnesses and when participants on the show break the law, and they bear no responsibility to intervene. Drug deals and drug use play out as a form of unknown entertainment for those of us who aren’t familiar with that type of world. Also, drug users and alcoholics under influence will get in the car and drive with the producer sitting next to them with the camera rolling in the front seat. There is no legal obligation, although producers should take a step back and question their moral ethics.
Drug use shown on Intervention

Shortly after the suicide of Russell Armstrong (who appeared as a participant on the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”), NPR blogger Linda Holmes proposed a code of ethics for reality TV show participants. Some of these standards included:
Russell Armstrong and his estranged wife of
 RHOBH who committed suicide last summer
  •  Free medical care for participants injured in the course of production
  •  No filming of participants who are inebriated from alcohol supplied by the show’s producers (self-supplied alcohol is another matter)
  •  An impartial body to handle complaints from participants who feel that the show has damaged their reputation
  •  A guarantee of six hours uninterrupted sleep per night while filming
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Cast

Though there has been no set code of ethical standards for reality TV shows to meet, it is only a matter of time before something horrible happens and we are forced to question whether reality television is becoming too real.