US reality TV: 'Hyper-sexual, perpetuates stereotypes'

Washington, Jan 20 (IANS/RIA Novosti) From a saucy six-year-old pageant queen Honey Boo Boo to the hard-drinking, hyper-sexual Italian-Americans on shows like "Jersey Shore", the brazen, politically incorrect themes on reality television in the US are hard to escape.

The genre, first made popular in the early 2000s, has dominated televisions across America, giving birth to some of the most talked about shows of all time, and its "stars" have become household names and in some cases gained global fame.

But critics of reality TV have accused the shows of perpetuating damaging ethnic, cultural and gender stereotypes, contending that viewers might take the shows at face value, failing to realize that the "reality" depicted on screen is nothing more than a heavily-scripted producer driven ratings ploy.

"When these shows started, the idea was that we put real people in a contrived situation," TV media critic Eric Deggans told RIA Novosti.

And as the shows gained popularity, Deggans said the outcomes went from authentic to manufactured, with ratings serving as the ultimate motivation.

"Producers need story lines to engage viewers and the quick and easy way to create them is to reduce people to stereotypes," Deggans said.

Take the success of The Learning Channel's (TLC) summer hit "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo", chronicling the life of Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson, a chubby, child beauty pageant participant from a small town in the southern state of Georgia and her over the top family who have nicknames like "Chubs" and "Sugabear".

"If you watch 'Honey Boo Boo', it seems like the camera people are making fun of these guys," said Rodney Ho, a TV writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Alana's mother June is months away from becoming a grandmother at the age of 33. None of June's four daughters are from the same father.

"Let's say you're talking to the camera and you sneeze or cough or fart, it doesn't usually make it into the final cut. But on 'Honey Boo Boo', they seem to go out of their way to show every time the poor woman sneezes or burps," Ho said.

Shows like "Rocket City Rednecks", "Hillbilly Handfishin" and "Swamp People" have dominated prime time TV on National Geographic, Animal Planet, and the History Channel.

Producers who work on the shows maintain the participants are willing, and if ratings are any indication, audiences love what they see.

New MTV reality show "Buckwild" follows around a group of 20-somethings from rural West Virginia, reported RIA Novosti.

In between the booze-fuelled catfights and sexual hookups, the cast participates in array of outdoor activities including mud racing, squirrel hunting and rope swinging.

US Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia has asked MTV to cancel "Buckwild".

In a letter, Manchin wrote: "Instead of showcasing the beauty of our people and our state, you preyed on young people, coaxed them into displaying shameful behaviour - and now you are profiting from it. That is just wrong. This show plays to ugly, inaccurate stereotypes about the people of West Virginia."

Other popular shows that critics have said show negative stereotypes are "The Bachelor", with its portrayal of women, African Americans in shows like VH1's "Basketball Wives", Persians in "Shahs of Sunset", and people of the Roma or Romani ethnic group, also referred to on television as "Gypsies".

On one episode of "My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding", a 14-year-old home-schooled girl living in a camper with her family has a Halloween party in hopes of finding a husband.

Each episode features young scantily clad "Gypsy" teens, preparing to get married, many of them before they turn 18, reported RIA Novosti.

"Here was an opportunity to dispense with the silly outdated notions that we all live in trailers and marry off our teen daughters, that Romani women prefer cleaning baseboards to getting an education, that our men drink more than they work," wrote author Oksana Marafioti who is of Romani decent, in a column on Slate.

There has been an instance where public protest has spooked producers into pulling the plug on a show.

In December, the Oxygen network announced plans for an upcoming reality special called "All My Babies' Mamas".

The show centred around Shawty Lo, a 36-year-old rapper and father of 11 children by 10 different women, with a 19-year-old girlfriend the same age as his oldest daughter. After an online petition that garnered more than 100,000 signatures and claims from civil rights groups that the show would perpetuate negative stereotypes about African-American families, the network announced it was canning the show.

--IANS/RIA Novosti

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