Schadenfruede is a German word meaning pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.
Reality TV may be a prime example of schadenfruede or there maybe even darker reasons for the popularity of Reality TV.
It is said that Candid Camera was the first Reality TV show. The show featured innocent pranks like moving garbage cans on a busy street while people walked by and reacted. Unlike Candid Camera where more often than not the target of the joke ended up laughing, Reality TV often appeals to the baser motivations of human beings.
Rather than laughter, many of the shows reveal contestants crying, screaming, swearing or at times physically attacking each other. Frequently members of the cast are humiliated for a shortcoming or human frailty. Reality shows often tend to encourage and reward outrageous, mean spirited or devious behavior.
Several University research projects seem to suggest that Reality TV may be having an impact on young, impressionable viewers. The research premise is that Reality TV shows are presented as “real;” most children realize that Spider Man cannot jump off the Empire State building without dying. By contrast, young viewers may perceive what they see on Reality TV as “real.”
I doubt that anyone could argue that many of the characters from Reality TV would be role models. One of the top rated shows is Jersey Shore; ostensibly the show provides a view to the profoundly vapid world of several New Jersey residents in their twenties and their friends and hook ups.
Another Reality TV show, Hell’s Kitchen, features Gordon Ramsey. Ramsey provides critical feedback to restaurant owners and employees. Ramsey screams, yells and humiliates with consummate skill. A clip that I viewed featured Ramsey screaming at an elderly waitress, two inches from her face, predictably she crumbled into tears. How mean and sad and difficult to watch.
Some shows feature people who actually have talent like American Idol or The Voice. Some contestants have labored for years to develop their abilities and a few launch their careers by appearing. However, there is human drama and some contestants are harshly criticized for their performance and some predictably break down.
In addition, the airing of some of the contestants that were not selected can be difficult to watch because they are so bad and the judges smirk as contestants sing wildly off key.
Perhaps the most egregiously offensive Reality Show in my opinion may be Dance Moms. I happened upon this show once and it compelled me to view several clips on line. They are very difficult to watch. The show features a severe task master and Dance Director, Abby Lee Miller. In one clip she screams at a six year old who is crying, “stop crying, six years old is too old for that kind of stupid baby crap.”
Imagine six and seven year olds with so much make up on so as to make them appear as strange, mini, showgirls. Their hair is teased up high and cemented in place with hair spray. They are dressed in bejeweled bikini tops and bottoms or jeweled gowns. They dance in ways that seem so patently inappropriate for their ages that it is all very odd. On display is a wide variety of creepy neurosis that in my opinion may even border on child abuse.
Not only does the Dance Director berate and humiliate the children, she attacks the mothers as well. The Dance Mothers are attacked when their children do not perform as directed. The Dance Mothers sometimes severely criticize their own children as well.
Are some Reality TV shows real, yes, maybe for the mean, baser driven or even crazy among us? Maybe I am way off on this because millions of Americans tune in every night and millions upon millions of dollars are being made as a result.
I’m hoping that young viewers don’t take Reality TV at face value. Hopefully parents will explain that Snooki or Kim Kardashian are not the “folks next door,” at least not in this universe.
Remember all kids count.
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