You shouldn't look it up at work because that would be inappropriate. But your sixth-grader can watch it on basic cable. Not only that, but with Halloween coming, your kids can buy the trick-or-treat costumes to imitate them. Last year, MTV proudly displayed a photo of what looked like second-graders dressed like their channel's promiscuous drunks. Their headline read, "These Jersey Shore Halloween Costumes Make Us Proud."
The "reality" shows featuring young people with no discernible talents whatsoever has also led to a distorted and unhealthy view of fame. The GSRI study asked girls 11 to 17 if they expect to be famous. One in 4 think so.
So how does one achieve this fame? Here's where the damage from the "reality show" is documented. Two very different worldviews emerged when the sample was divided into regular viewers of reality TV and non-viewers. On the statement: "You have to lie to get what you want," 37 percent of regular viewers of reality TV shows agreed versus 24 percent of non-viewers. On "Being mean earns you more respect than being nice," 37 percent of viewers agreed versus a fourth of non-viewers. On the notion, "You have to be mean to others to get what you want," 28 percent of reality viewers agreed, compared to 18 percent of non-viewers.
This is what networks like MTV are achieving. Regular viewers of reality TV accept and expect a higher level of drama, aggression and bullying in their own lives. The study found that 78 percent of regular viewers agreed that "gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls," compared with 54 percent of non-viewers. Sixty-eight percent agreed that "it's in girls' nature to be catty and competitive with one another," while only 50 percent of non-viewers thought so.
Obviously, not all reality shows promote societal disfunctionality (though I'm hard-pressed to find an exception on MTV). Some are positive and truly inspirational by design, such as "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." And before the cynics pipe in to say that "the market" demands the raunchy, let us underscore that shows like "Extreme Makeover" can be wildly successful commercial ventures as well. So it follows that the reverse of the present "reality show" poisoning is also possible. What would happen if these reality shows were to promote decency, chivalry, honesty, respect, manners, modesty, beauty, innocence, goodness, and fortitude?
It would all sell.