I have mentioned watching the Hoarders TV show before. I have been busy watching other episodes, and catching up with the seasons. I find them to be both disturbing and fascinating, but now I am wondering if reality TV is helpful or not.
It is certainly educational, and sometimes you can see things in people you know. What makes me concerned about reality TV is the effect it has on the person, and the effect it has on the watcher.
The effect on the person is that it is a public shaming. The long-term repercussions are that the person can sometimes be an object of ridicule, and their future relationships and job opportunities might be limited. In parties and conversation with others, Snooki for example seems to be an object of ridicule. While she and others in the cast are enjoying financial success they might otherwise not have had, I have to wonder if reality TV participants on the whole are worse off than before they were famous. The vast majority of reality TV stars we never hear anymore. What is Kevin from the Real World doing lately?
More directly, what is the effect on us for watching reality TV? Does watching the psychological issue of others help us to become more sensitive and caring to the needs of others? Or rather, and this is what I fear, does it make us feel hopeless to interact with these kind of people and immediately label them and expect only a professional to be a friend to them? I must admit that I would find it very challenging to be friends with a hoarders. Some of them seem like great people like Jim in a Season 2 episode. The challenge for me and many of us I feel is that the disgust we feel for the unsanitary and worthless nature of the stuff they keep. Sometimes I have to look away because it is so uninhabitable and impossible to imagine living in that.
I think the danger of reality TV is that our knee-jerk reaction is to label the people as lazy or stupid. I am not sure that being thoughtful and compassionate is a common knee jerk reaction. I have been guilty of thinking of Snooki in less than positive terms. TV is first a distortion medium. How can we trust the edits and staged sets of so-called “reality” TV? TV only shows us the most small part of someone, we are rarely able to honestly evaluate the information we are presented. I often think of an old quote when I deal with someone.
If we knew the tragedy in most people’s past, we would treat them differently.
I am not looking to make excuses for bad behavior. Everyone is responsible for their own behavior. I think another risk of reality TV is that it normalizes what is extreme behavior. Many behaviors are harmful to the person and others, and we as friends and family should call them out on that. If they don’t listen, we have done our part. At some point, behavior is unacceptable and codependent behavior is as sick as the people who are acting out.
This will probably be my last season of hoarders. I think I have learned what I can from this series. I would rather watch examples of healthy behavior than disturbed ones.