I read an article at The Daily Beast today that only confirmed my growing unease with the effect that reality TV is having on kids today. The article reports on the surprising number of children (defined as anyone between the ages of 2 and 18 - and no, they're not all 18) are tuning in religiously to Bravo's The Real Housewives series. Now I'm not going to sit here and ask that tiresome question, "And where are the parents?" I'd rather just stop and think about what's going on here and what the possible effects might be.
One author in the article suggests that "dramatic, theatrical kids like to watch The Real Housewives because the women on the show are just like them." Okay, I won't quibble with that. But are the 155,000 kids who watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta each week all aspiring actors and actresses? I'm going to guess probably not. The truth is, the women on these "shows" act like children, and so they appeal to children. Yes, kids like seeing adults act the way they act, or wish they could act. But what does this mean? How many of these faithful young viewers are turning the television off at the end of each show and consciously rejecting the behavior of the "actresses" they just watched? Reality TV blends reality and theatre in a way that only those of us who were born before its advent can really comprehend. If a kid sees a grown woman upend a table or even physically accost her friend, and receive absolutely no consequences for her actions, are we trying to say that this isn't going to have some kind of effect on the kid's behavior as well?
Now, all right, not all kids are the same. "The truth is that I wouldn't take it if I couldn't also have respect," says one 18 year old. "It's pretty obvious that a lot of the husbands don't really respect them." Encouraging, right? But she also adds that a part of her "aspires to be like them. I know they're completely objectified and that all they do is go shopping and get their pictures taken and go to restaurants. Still, a part of me thinks, I want to be really pretty and rich and be able to travel everywhere."
Whoa. If you ask me, what we seem to have here is a really smart girl, who's probably been raised by some equally smart guardians, has received a good education and had some thoughtful, caring teachers. And (or perhaps) she herself is just one clever cookie. But yet she's conflicted. I want these things, she thinks, but I know it's not right. At least that's what I've been taught. That's what my parents say. That's what I've read. That's what I feel.
But I still want them.
Okay, okay. So do I have a solution? Um, of course not. We can't exactly ban reality TV. And at what point do you loosen the apron strings and let an 18 year old watch whatever she wants to watch?
But I'm not crazy for being concerned, am I?
- Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States
- Hello, and welcome to my blog! I like to write about children's literature, fairy tales, feminism, and pop culture in general. I've recently earned my Ph.D. in children's literature at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I also review children's and young adult books for Kirkus and teach English at Sowela Technical Community College. Oh, and I like cats! [Banner image artwork by Yuki Midorikawa]