Too Realistic for Reality TV?


One of MTV’s highest rated shows is “Teen Mom”, a reality show that depicts the struggles young mothers face in their lives. On the show’s September 28th episode, viewers witnessed a violent fight between teen parents Amber and Gary. Amber violently kicked, punched, and slapped her boyfriend and father of her baby, all while in the presence of their 23 month old daughter. Almost more shocking than the physical acts of violence was the verbal abuse that accompanied it. Amber was shown calling her boyfriend “a fat piece of trash” and telling him that he would never amount to anything. The fight was harsh enough to warrant the attention of the Indiana police and Child Protective Services, both of which are currently investigating the fight and contemplating further action.

What happens when sensationalism becomes real life? At what point does the statistic that 1 in 4 young women are victims of abuse become too real to air on television? As instances of intimate partner abuse rise, so do their depictions on television. And the debate is real: is domestic violence on the rise due to  nonchalant portrayals in the media or is the media just a reflection of what’s going on in society?

In contrast, “Abusers” is a new intervention reality show that was recently announced to be in the early production stages. Producers of the show claim that it will depict real-life cases of domestic violence and offer counseling and support for both the abuser and the victim. According to its press release, “Abusers” does not intend to sensationalize domestic abuse but instead wants to help educate the public on an often taboo topic. The series is still being shopped around to major television networks, so only time will tell how influential and informative a show like “Abusers” could be.

While I see the benefits of bringing taboos out into the open, I’ll remain skeptical about “Abusers” until the final product is aired. There’s a fine line between education and exploitation; a line that can be easily crossed despite good intentions. To avoid approaching into shock value territory, “Abusers” needs to show the viewer that stopping violence between intimate partners isn’t as simple as stopping the physical hitting, as “Teen Mom” Amber promised she’d do. Rather, it’s about transforming a pattern of behavior and stopping abuses of power.

What’s your opinion – do you think “Abusers” will be able to realistically display the cycle of domestic violence in a non-exploitive way, or should networks shy away from airing these abusive scenes?

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  • aligatorhardt

    I have little faith in the good intentions of the TV studios. Sensationalizing brings in the money. There could be educational value in showing domestic abuse, but only if it is accompanied by commentary from credentialed experts,(not fake doctors like Dr. Phil). Simplistic talking points will not cure abusive personalities. It seems that most abusers do not reform themselves. If there are real cures for this problem, then the show could be a valuable asset.

  • beenthere72

    I am a huge ‘fan’ of intervention type reality-TV shows, but I have to think about this one for a bit.   I think I’d first like to see the spotlight focused on animal abusers since this type of abuse is the precursor to other abuse, or something worse.    I can only imagine an intervention on someone abusing their spouse or children could seriously backfire in dangerous, deadly ways.  

  • next-door-solutions

    I completely agree. I’d be mortified if this type of show backfired and had negative consequences on the couple involved. It’s a thin and dangerous line, and we really need to question whether or not it’s worth the risk. I hope tv networks keep that in mind and realize money is not worth putting someones life in serious danger.

  • beenthere72

    If anything, I would like to see MTV follow up on Amber and make sure she gets the treatment she needs since her abusive behavior has already been well documented and well publicized.    Unlike Intervention, I’d like to see the progress of the actual treatment, not simply the expose of the abuse and the intervention followed by a blurb on the screen about how the individual completed treatment, or not, and remains sober, or not.  

  • crowepps

    Are you under the impression that therapy would be more likely to be successful if it included a whole bunch of strangers WATCHING it as entertainment?  Would the therapy, like the Abuse and the Intervention likely are, be scripted?

     

    It may just be because I’m a geezer, but I’ve got to say this type of ‘reality TV’ comes across to me as the current equivalent of the ‘entertainments’ of watching heretics burn, attending the public torture and hanging of traitors,  making a trip down to the asylum to sneer, or throwing garbage at people in the stocks.

  • beenthere72

    Personally, I’d like to watch so I could learn something from it and I think by not following up on her behavior issues might excuse it or ignore the seriousness of it for those that watch the show – which are mostly teenagers, including my step-daughter.     We get to see the work put into improving physical well-being on the Biggest Loser, why not see the work it takes to improve mental well-being?    Maybe it would take some of the stigma off of therapy and make kids less inclined to go straight to the medicine cabinet and over medicate (which I’ve read that Amber is also doing).

     

    I’ll admit that I watch Intervention to make me feel better about some of my own vices, and I love watching all the Real Housewives because it’s often such a trainwreck and I wish I had such leisurely lives, but in the case of Amber and Gary, I just feel like there’s a lesson that needs to be taught there outside of the tabloid coverage that it’s getting. 

     

    I have to add, and maybe an expert can weigh in on here on the impact of Teen Mom type shows on 16 year olds, my husband STORMED out of the room the other day when he realized we were watching the show and the current mom-to-be was a 16 year old that had sex with an 17 or 18 year old the night he gave her a ride home from a party and was now pregnant with twins.   He wouldn’t come back until we changed the channel.     I don’t like these shows, but I’m also not home when my step-teen gets home from school so I cannot keep her from watching them.   So when I am home, I’ve been watching them with her so I can find out if there’s something we should discuss together.  

  • crowepps

    Personally, I’d like to watch so I could learn something from it

    Therapy is important to the individual participating in it, but it is a process of self-realization.  There isn’t anything there a spectator can ‘learn’.

    and I think by not following up on her behavior issues might excuse it or ignore the seriousness of it for those that watch the show – which are mostly teenagers, including my step-daughter.  

    If her ‘behavior issues’ are real and serious, they wouldn’t be addressed through the medium of a television show at all.   They’d be handled by a Court or at a Hospital.  Shaming on television is not the way our society solves serious behavior issues.

     

    Teenagers who watch these shows are given the message that the behaviors they are watching are LIKELY, that they should EXPECT their friends and acquaintances to act this way, and that there probably wouldn’t be any big consequences if they behaved that way themselves.  It frames their expectations about their future.  This article has some useful stuff:

    http://www.cleveland.com/tv/index.ssf/2008/03/does_reality_tv_for_teens_indu.html

     

    I’ll admit that I watch Intervention to make me feel better about some of my own vices

    I’m sure your stepdaughter feels better about her vices as well.  Why should she go to the effort to improve or try to be ‘better’ when she’s ALREADY so superior to the TV sluts and freaks?

    I don’t like these shows, but I’m also not home when my step-teen gets home from school so I cannot keep her from watching them.  So when I am home, I’ve been watching them with her so I can find out if there’s something we should discuss together.  

    I’d be really interested in hearing exactly which ‘somethings’ you identified as worth talking about and how the discussions went.  It’d be interesting to find out if those discussions made as big an impression on her as her Dad saying he didn’t find it ‘entertaining’ to watch a young girl making poor choices.

    • beenthere72

      ‘Somethings’ are :  using protection, stressing how important it is to get an education first and foremost, finding a career, acheiving independence,   not seeking out approval from men to make you feel better about yourself, not wanting a baby just because they’re cute, understanding what a huge commitment motherhood is – financially, emotionally, socially, etc.   The show does touch on these things and then I reinforce them, if I can.  

       

      I wanted to see for myself that show is not making it out to be so easy to be a teen mom and make sure she knows that.    I was really worried she’d be all ‘awww, cute wittle babies, I want one!’  because she gets like that around her niece.  

       

      I did appreciate the story of the young couple that gave their child up for open adoption and we discussed how difficult that must be.     I don’t think I could’ve done something like that.   

       

      And though I haven’t heard it mentioned yet anywhere on the show, but maybe it has, we’ve also discussed abortion as an option.     

       

      Now, my husband’s approach would be more along the lines of:  “if someone touches you, I’ll kick their ass.   Don’t have sex.”    Honestly, I wish he paid better attention to what she was watching and listening to and doing.   He tossed much of that responsibility in my lap after we got married.   

  • crowepps

    Those all sound like fruitful areas for discussion.  Hopefully your comments to her are sticking better than the behavior she’s seeing modeled –

    Honestly, I wish he paid better attention to what she was watching and listening to and doing.   He tossed much of that responsibility in my lap after we got married.   

    Oh, man, that brought back bad memories.  My husband had kids from his first marriage and figured once we got married that all that ‘kid stuff’ was supposed to be my problem.  What is with men that they figure ‘paying attention to the kids’ is something only women can take care of?  If it’s important to them that their sons and daughters learn something, then they ought to make sure it’s taught THEMSELVES.  It makes a much bigger impression that way!

  • beenthere72

    I hope so too.  I *really* don’t want to be a grandmother yet.   So many of her friends are being raised by their grandmothers because their own mom’s couldn’t handle the responsibility for whatever reason.    I was pretty surprised to learn how common that is when I moved to this area.  

     

    My husband’s mom takes care of everybody and everything so it shouldn’t totally surprise me he expects the same of me.   But my step daughter’s birth-mom is SO completely out of the picture, and has been for most of her life (and when she was in the picture, she was a nutjob), that anything I can do to make up for that, I try to do. 

  • forced-birth-rape

    “Amber violently kicked, punched, and slapped her boyfriend and father of her baby, all while in the presence of their 23 month old daughter. Almost more shocking than the physical acts of violence was the verbal abuse that accompanied it. Amber was shown calling her boyfriend “a fat piece of trash” and telling him that he would never amount to anything.”

    ~ Amber sounds like a hateful troll, and her baby should be taken away from her. I quit watching MTV in the mid nineties it had became so vulgor, obnoxious, and very demeaning to black girls. ~

  • saltyc

    Real abuse like that should not be aired, I could not watch it and I can’t believe what’s fed as entertainment fare nowadays.

    Look at the business model here: the shareholders, producers or whoever’s making money here are gaining from abuse. Each slap generates income for them. Each damaging act that hurts a human being makes money.

    And how do they rig these situations to maximize their profit margin? Do they favor candidates for the show that are more disfunctional? How do they increase the stress on the participants/fodder to increase the instances of abuse? It’s a setup folks, and viewers pretend to ignore that they’re rigged or like they’re not complicit in consuming and paying money through subscriptions, eyeballs to advertisement, etc to pay for the damage done to these people, and people pretend to believe that the fact that they signed a contract or “knew what they were getting into” means all the damage is their own fault. So they’ll blame the people being damaged before their eyes severely and probably irreversably, and ignore the fat cats getting rich and we won’t look at the man in the mirror consuming these people’s distress. If you know two people are going to hurt each other, or one hurt the other, and you have the means, you do what you can to separate them and help, you DON’T just stand around watching and you definitely don’t make a show about it and please don’t believe the bullshit that this is to help or raise awareness or any such lie.

    I stopped looking at MTV abou the same time as FBIR, basically when it stopped being about music. We’re turning into zombies, just watching people get hurt before our eyes and acting like life is a spectacle. OK I’m done.