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Behind the Reality of Reality TV 1

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I stared into the blinking light, then at my buddies. My mouth was open and the camera was rolling, but I couldn't think of anything to say. Just minutes before, the five of us had been cracking jokes, one after another. We figured we were funnier than anything on TV, so we turned on my dad's video camera to capture it all on tape. But once the film started rolling, everything was different. Be funny, I thought, do something cool. Instead, we all froze. Finally, someone made a lame joke and the rest of us faked uproarious laughter. My friends and I had tried to make our own version of reality TV. Later, when I saw The Real World on MTV, I wondered how these people could be so natural and real with cameras around all the time. Since then, I've spent some time doing more than just watching these reality TV shows. I've looked closely at what they're communicating. Here are a few things I've learned.

Real People, Unreal Situations
Shows like The Real World drop everyday people into a television "fishbowl" so we can watch their lives. They bring a bunch of strangers into a different situation to see what will happen as their personalities meet and sometimes clash. Survivor, Amazing Race and Big Brother take the same formula and make a game out of it. Fishbowl cameras also have followed the daily lives of famous people like the Kardashians and "regular" people like the Duggars.

It's always important to remember, though, that much of what happens is staged. Even if the cameras are hidden, the stars know they are being filmed. Like my friends and me on that day we taped ourselves, people tend to exaggerate emotions or put on a certain "face" when cameras are around.

This is a very artificial world—hardly "reality." Take the way casts are chosen. A lot of times, contestants are selected because they are a little off-the-wall or have controversial opinions. Whole casts are often assembled simply to produce drama and conflict. Many times, Christians are portrayed as fanatics who alienate other cast members by forcing their beliefs on them. Shows that feature families or groups of people interacting often encourage bad behavior, controversy and bad language because they get more people to watch.

And viewers watch by the millions. They watch as people mistreat each other, betray each other, treat each other as sexual objects, act selfishly toward each other and stereotype each other. On the shows that involve contests, many of the contestants will do anything to "win the game."

I must admit, these shows can be fun to watch. But if I think about it, I realize that much of what I see and hear goes against what my faith teaches. When I hear people swearing at each other and putting each other down, I'm reminded of this command: "Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them" (Ephesians 4:29, NLT). And when I watch people mistreating each other, I must think about the Scripture that tells us to treat one another with kindness, compassion and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32).

Shows like Survivor and Big Brother can seem like harmless fun. But when I stop laughing and enjoying all the craziness, what effect is it having on me? Do I ever find myself even subtly modeling the actions of those people I watch? Do I sometimes get a kick out of putting somebody down? Do I find my language loosening up a little, because of what I've heard on TV? If so, then I need to take a serious look my viewing habits.


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