Too Realistic for Reality TV?

Next Door Solutions

What happens when sensationalism becomes real life? At what point does the statistic that 1 in 4 young women are victims of abuse become too real to air on television?

One of MTV’s highest rated shows is “Teen Mom”, a reality show that depicts the struggles young mothers face in their lives. On the show’s September 28th episode, viewers witnessed a violent fight between teen parents Amber and Gary. Amber violently kicked, punched, and slapped her boyfriend and father of her baby, all while in the presence of their 23 month old daughter. Almost more shocking than the physical acts of violence was the verbal abuse that accompanied it. Amber was shown calling her boyfriend “a fat piece of trash” and telling him that he would never amount to anything. The fight was harsh enough to warrant the attention of the Indiana police and Child Protective Services, both of which are currently investigating the fight and contemplating further action.

What happens when sensationalism becomes real life? At what point does the statistic that 1 in 4 young women are victims of abuse become too real to air on television? As instances of intimate partner abuse rise, so do their depictions on television. And the debate is real: is domestic violence on the rise due to  nonchalant portrayals in the media or is the media just a reflection of what’s going on in society?

In contrast, “Abusers” is a new intervention reality show that was recently announced to be in the early production stages. Producers of the show claim that it will depict real-life cases of domestic violence and offer counseling and support for both the abuser and the victim. According to its press release, “Abusers” does not intend to sensationalize domestic abuse but instead wants to help educate the public on an often taboo topic. The series is still being shopped around to major television networks, so only time will tell how influential and informative a show like “Abusers” could be.

While I see the benefits of bringing taboos out into the open, I’ll remain skeptical about “Abusers” until the final product is aired. There’s a fine line between education and exploitation; a line that can be easily crossed despite good intentions. To avoid approaching into shock value territory, “Abusers” needs to show the viewer that stopping violence between intimate partners isn’t as simple as stopping the physical hitting, as “Teen Mom” Amber promised she’d do. Rather, it’s about transforming a pattern of behavior and stopping abuses of power.

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What’s your opinion – do you think “Abusers” will be able to realistically display the cycle of domestic violence in a non-exploitive way, or should networks shy away from airing these abusive scenes?

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