Is Reality Television Ethical?
By Michael Asiffo
Reality television is fun for many people to watch due to the interesting characters, camera and editing tricks and supposedly real-life situations. Even though there are many questions about its legitimacy, the distinctive production factors in place give it that sense of realism.
Although it is now becoming well-known that there is a lot of embellishment in reality television, however, most people refuse to look away from a good reality television show. With that being said, there are some serious moral questions that need to be asked of reality television.
Carter Moon, Music Editor at Crossfader Magazine has some very interesting opinions about reality television. Moon is also a former videographer turned writer and editor for many publications. In addition, Moon is a regular on Crossfader Magazine’s flagship podcast, In The Crosshairs.
In one such recent podcast Moon shared his thoughts on reality television. Carrying the conversation forward, Carter Moon got talking shared his views on Vibe Talks with Michael Asiffo.
Michael: Your most recent episode was one that had to do with ethics of reality television and you talked to a lot of experts in the industry. What was your big takeaway?
Carter: I think the big thing I took away was that the amount of manufacturing that goes into reality television; the number of things that are manipulated is really not reflecting anything that actually happens. So as a result, the appeal of reality television is not as honest as it seems to a lot of people. I think that it’s an important thing for anyone to be aware of as they are watching such television. Whether its documentary based, or faux documentary based, like “Keeping up with the Kardashians” or competition based like ‘The Bachelor’ or ‘The Bachelorette’.
"I think it’s just important to remember that producers are behind the scenes. Producers are constantly manipulating people and taking to their editing to create drama - when there really was not much drama."
Michael: One thing I did noticed was that you had a lot of reservations about the genre. Can you add to what your doubts were about reality television?
Carter: The thing about reality TV that always just never sat in my gut correctly is knowing that it does either of two things: taking people and putting them in situations where they are reducing themselves or not acting as they would in a natural situation (i.e. Big Brother or the Bachelor). On the other hand, I think reality TV celebrates wealth and decadence in a way that I do not really support or admire. I think shows like ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ celebrate people just for accumulating wealth and shows like ‘The Apprentice’ also were just celebrating a person for gathering wealth. That is just values that I do not really respect or agree with.
Michael: I think that can be morally troubling because, one: those are values that not many can relate to and two: humiliating people is just plain mean. Is that correct?
Carter: Right. And you know it is a tricky thing because I say I do not like reality television but I have to admit that I do have a soft spot for shows like Borat and Jackass. But I think there is a pretty big distinction between those shows and traditional reality TV. Borat, to me, was this person playing a character who by playing a bigot and an exaggerated persona, brought out the worst in people. So, he (Borat) did do some negative things and manipulate people, but he also showed what people who they really could be in an actual situation. To me, the comedy that comes out of that is more realistic. Also, with something like Jackass, so often Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O were the butt of the joke and they were being laughed at - they were debasing themselves but they chose to do that. It was not people being put in situations where they were doing things without consent. That is the big distinction to me.
Michael: So in your opinion there is a balance or an alternative way to this reality TV show conundrum?
Carter: Yeah, I think so.
Michael: In the end, did you gain more of an appreciation for Reality TV?
Carter: I do not look down at people who choose to watch reality TV and spend an hour each week watching ‘The Bachelor’ or ‘Bachelorette’. I think there are people who can indulge in that and understand the its artifice. I also think there are people who recognize such shows present an absurd situation and they can kind of appreciate it for what it is. Before I started recording this episode, I did not really appreciate that smart, good people with pretty good morals can also enjoy shows, that to me were vapid and manipulative. I think everyone is allowed to enjoy what they want to enjoy. I just think everybody should critically consider the implications of what they are enjoying.
Michael: Recently there has been the rise of these social experiment reality shows on YouTube that has been getting really successful. What is your opinion of such shows in comparison to the reality television show genre?
Carter: I have to admit, I think those are the bottom of the barrel content creators. Especially those who do just gross things. They are either screaming at people in public or manipulating children and taking advantage of them in ways that are really not great. For example, in one such show there was a couple who got their kids taken away because they were essentially abusing them for clicks. I really think it is like the lowest common denominator and I really do not see the appeal or what is learned from such content. There is absolutely no deeper commentary. It’s just about seeing someone getting humiliated in a 10-20 minute YouTube video.
Michael: Do you think such shows can improve? And are there any YouTube shows that find the balance we spoke about earlier?
Carter: Well, I do not know. I like H3H3 a good bit on YouTube because I think he does a good job taking apart these social experiment YouTube channels. He’s also good at adding an extra layer, where he’s commenting on these videos and I think that can do something.
"I just think at the end of the day, if you are making a YouTube video or if you are making anything, people should be aware of what they are participating in, as often these social experimenters do not seem to care about that."
You can find more about Carter’s podcast: ‘In the Crosshairs’ here.