Reality television has given instant fame to people who otherwise wouldn’t have public attention. More people tuned in to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo than the Republican National Convention of 2012. However, reality television shows that were once popular are falling apart under the weight of that fame. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was canceled a couple of days ago because Anna Cardwell’s mother was reportedly dating the girl’s molester. TLC canceled the show amid controversy that the show’s producers exploited the family for their own gain.
Honey Boo Boo is not the only reality television show that has come under fire. Police arrested the celebrities of “Sons of Guns” for child abuse and child rape. The stars of The Real Housewives of New Jersey (RHNJ) plead guilty to mortgage and bankruptcy fraud earlier this year. Should television producers have the legal duty to check whether their stars are criminals?
Child abuse and child molestation are not issues that producers can ignore. If teachers have an obligation to report abuse, adults who also work with children could take on the same duty. Putting legal red tape on the production of reality television might also force producers to inquiry into the well-being of their stars. If RHNJ had disclosed that they weren’t as wealthy as their show portrayed, RHNJ stars might not have been placed in a possible where fraud was a good idea.
On the other hand, it would be difficult for television producers to check whether their stars are doing something illegal. Honey Boo Boo was easier because there were photographs of June Shannon spending the night out with the man accused of molesting Shannon’s daughter. Catching child abuse behind closed doors is more difficult if the child doesn’t come forward. Moreover, people who commit abuse or fraud are likely to hide what they are doing, so producers would have to take time out of their actual jobs to catch suspicious behavior that they might not know exists.
Decadence Is the Price We Pay
Opponents of reality television are convinced reality television contributes to the moral decay of society. Reality television definitely highlights the ugly side of American culture. When the focus of these shows is on child beauty pageants and the life money can buy, the United States does appear superficial.
However, that doesn’t mean reality television shouldn’t exist. I could give all kinds of reasons about the First Amendment, but I think there are more interesting reasons to keep reality television around.
The first problem with eliminating “moral decay” in reality television is that moral decay is vague. Moral decay is like pornography. Everyone knows it when they see it, but even Supreme Court Justices would have a difficult time defining what it is. Second, shows that would be considered moral decay could still have value. Honey Boo Boo rebuked stereotypes that all southerners were against homosexuality when June Shannon said that “everybody’s a little gay.”
Television might be debasing and vulgar, but unlike politicians, these shows are at least honest about what they stand for. As long as television networks avoid supporting criminals, we might even consider lowering the bar so that people on television might be more honest with audiences.