The television show “Survivor” premiered in the United States in May 2000. On “Survivor” 20 strangers live in an isolated location. There, they must provide food, fire and shelter for themselves.
The group competes in challenges. Then fellow contestants “vote them off the island” until one person remains who wins the grand prize. It’s a manufactured reality in a fictitious community and the most successful reality series out there.
“Survivor” has spawned an industry of reality television from “Jersey Shore” to “Duck Dynasty” to “Keeping up with the Kardashians” and the entire “Real Housewives of …” series. Few topics remain untouched.
What’s the problem?
What’s the problem with reality television? Isn’t it mindless escapism? A pretend community of people?
These are communities where those who are ruthless and hardhearted succeed. They are communities with no sense of social responsibility. They are communities built on short-term profit and exploitation. These shows often portray values that denigrate community and humanity.
I can’t help but juxtapose these fictitious communities with real communities where basic survival is no game, and fears and temptations mark the lives of even the youngest.
Solvable realities need our attention
We don’t have to look much further than Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following recent hurricanes. Those are real communities with astronomical needs. No one is getting voted off those islands, and no one is winning a grand prize as they attempt to rebuild their lives.
Think about other realities we face in the United States today.
In 2014 more than 48 million Americans lived in households that struggled to put food on the table. More than 20 percent of children–one in five–live at risk of hunger. The maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is the highest among all the developed countries. Today we woke up to hear of a mass shooting in Las Vegas, with 50 dead and over 200 injured.
These are but a few of the realities facing Americans. Throw in racism, misogyny, immigration issues and the rise of white supremacy. Instead of working to solve these problems, what are millions of Americans doing? Watching reality TV.
[bctt tweet=”When we face challenges as a nation, can we let reality TV shape our conscience?” username=”womenoftheelca”]
The 35th season of “Survivor” began on September 27, and I say, enough is enough. Our realities need the attention of the millions of Americans watching these shows.
I understand that reality television has many fans, millions of them, in fact. Some equate the shows with plain old “people watching.”
Some applaud the genre, saying that finally ordinary people are elevated through reality shows. (Unfortunately, this argument fails when viewers become obsessed with social status. Consider all those who watch plastic surgery reality shows, then desire to be made “perfect” through plastic surgery.)
Some suggest by watching these shows they learn life skills, should they ever be in a similar situation. (How many of us are likely to be marooned on a deserted island?) Don’t overlook the appeal of escapism. And, some TV viewers are happy not to be living the lives portrayed in reality series.
Turn off the TV
When we face unprecedented challenges as a nation, can we Christians sit by and allow vacuous reality television shows to shape our societal conscience?
Turn off the TV. Get to know your neighbors. (Jesus tells us that everyone is our neighbor.) Work together to better your community. That’s what Jesus calls us to do. And that’s a reality I’d like to see.
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director of Women of the ELCA.