How did we, as a nation, get to Honey Boo Boo? At one point, there were more people watching the TLC show than the Presidential debate. The question I ask is not just about this show, but for reality TV in general.
Starting with “Candid Camera” in the 1940’s, reality TV has transformed American Television. The genre didn’t get its moniker until Anthropologist Margaret Mead suggested the name in the 1970’s. The genre transformed into what it is today starting in 1992 with MTV’s “The Real World” and exploding onto our TV sets with 2000’s “Survivor”. Since then a number of shows have debuted, questioning America’s morals and viewing standards. These shows range from “Married by America”, “Joe Millionaire”, “The Swan” and “Keeping up with the Kardashians”
None has found more success than the Kardashians. Points can be made about their “Fame” and “Talents” and how they rose to stardom, but as much as they are looked upon negatively, they are still on our air waves, having their show renewed for multiple seasons. How? Because in spite of all the negativity, people still watch their show. They are famous because we made them famous. That’s fine. In America, one doesn’t need talent, such as acting, as long as you’re willing to act a fool in front of a camera. It can be questioned if the people on reality shows are being themselves or putting on an act, because they know they need ratings in order for them to make money. If an adult is conscience enough to go on television to act a fool, that is their choice. Once children are placed into this circus, where would we draw the line?
Reality programs starring children began with “Wife Swap” and “Trading Spouses” in 2002 and 2004 respectively. Theses show didn’t feature children in a predominate role, but they were a focal point. Additionally “Nanny 911” and “Super Nanny”, featured children. These programs featured children in their own setting, exploiting their bad behavior. The real criticism came in 2007 with the premieres of “John and Kate plus 8” and “Kid Nation”
With “Kid Nation” Children were left with little supervision to create their own society a la Lord of the Flies. Also with John and Kate plus 8, the show became a tabloid staple in later season. These two shows brought into question child labor laws. A year later “Baby Borrowers” premiered, which sounds like a bad idea. These shows paved the way for shows like “Raising Sextuplets” and “19 Kids and Counting”. These types of show put the children’s lives in front of the camera. Later shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras” and “Dance Moms” placed children under more scrutiny. As previously stated, if adults want to participate in a reality program, they can, but what about the children? Yes, they have parents who permit their children be used in such programming, but in a sense, who owns their childhood? Many child actors can attest that living in the public eye is no easy task. When children are placed in a reality setting, they can be confused by the cameras, or be busy portraying a character, so the audience can find interesting enough to watch, that they lose their identity.
Besides their own psychological well-being, is their own physical well-being.
John and Kate plus 8 were under investigation for its labor practices. The issue was concerning, if the children are protected by child labor laws, which cover child actors. But can they be called actors. Many claims have been made otherwise, but the point is that the children are placed in a situation that might not be ideal. Another issue is if these children are covered under the Coogan Law? This law stipulates that a percentage of the child’s earning be placed in a trust fund until they are 18. Once again, if they are not considered actors this does not apply to them.
This goes back to their parents. Are they being responsible by placing their child on TV? Having a parent agree to their child on a reality TV show is different than placing them on a TV Show. One is a child actor, who is protected under law, and that is essentially playing a character, while on a reality show they are being themselves.
There is also the reasoning as to why they decide to allow cameras to follow their child. Which begs the questions, is the parent doing this for their own gain, basically using their child for fame or money. An example would be Nadya Suleman “Octomom”. With her brood, she tried to get a reality show, when this failed; she tried using her fledging fame to make money. One has to wonder why she hasn’t gotten a real job instead of pursing a TV deal or acting career.
But at what lengths would someone go to be on TV. One cannot forget Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the White House crashers or Richard and Mayumi Heene and the balloon boy hoax. This is an example of exploiting a child for media attention. One can also place the parents of Abigail Sunderland on this list. Months before she was stranded at sea trying to be break the record for the youngest person ever to sail solo around the world, her parents signed a reality show deal. Mr. Laurence Sunderland was quoted by The Post as saying that he was broke.
By what measure is the American public to blame? We are the ones who watch these shows, giving fuel to fame or money hungry parents to exploit their children. So this is how we arrive at Honey Boo Boo, a little girl and her family with their red neck antics on TV that millions find entertaining. We laugh, they get paid
. Reality TV is still new, so the effects of being on a reality show are still not well documented, but looking upon the horizon at future programming, I hope that Americans don’t fall in the abyss of exploitation and immaturity for entertainment, and even worse be the people who are willing to participate for money.