4B3 The Statement
Wednesday, January 30, 2013 // The Statement 5B
The first time I ever got drunk, I
was a sophomore in high school.
It was 2009 - a pretty indistinct
year with all things considered - except a
new phenomenon was crashing down with a
vengeance on kids my age: the rise of reality
Prime time gems like "Flavor of Love" or
"A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila" peppered
the television lineup like a bad case of her-
pes. Then came "Jersey Shore" - the pen-
ultimate reality television show for getting
plastered, having sex with strangers and
living an entirely irresponsible life ... while
simultaneously becoming famous and get-
These stars were impossible to ignore
- their faces plastered on billboards, com-
mercials and advertisements. So I, much like
every other teenager, investigated what the
hype was all about and eventually bought
into everything the reality TV paradigmhad
My friends came over for a sleepover, and
we flipped on a "Jersey Shore" marathon.
After my parents went to sleep upstairs, we
snuck to the back of the living room, quiet-
ly shuffled some potted plants around and
broke into the liquor closet. We mixed some
vodka and orange juice and began to play a
"Jersey Shore" drinking game.
"Every time someone refers to themselves
in third person - drink!"
"Every time someone references gym, tan
or laundry - drink!"
"Every time they have to blur out a body
part - drink!"
By episode three, we were passed out
drunk on the couch. The next day we awoke
with killer hangovers and the vodka safely
back in the cabinet half filled with water
(sorry, Mom and Dad).
In my young mind, drinking and real-
ity shows like "Jersey Shore" seemed to go
hand-in-hand. I thought getting wasted,
dressing awfully and making altogether
bad life choices like Snooki and the Shore
gang made them seem "cool." And what kid
doesn't want to be cool?
It's easy to write off this kind of anecdote
as teen stupidity. That was "so high school"
- after graduation, students receive the gift
of maturity along with their diplomas. But
the effects of reality shows have a tendency
to burrow much deeper than one drunken
sleepover. They can alter perception of
what is right and wrong and can perpetuate
drinking, drugs and sex throughout genera-
Communications Prof. Susan Douglas
teaches a course that analyzes the effects of
reality shows like "Jersey Shore."
"Let's say you're thirteen and watch-
ing 'Jersey Shore' at night," Douglas said.
"You're seeing all of this behavior, and these
people that are famous because of this show,
which can provide aspirational representa-
tions. You want to aspire to these behaviors
with the goal of becoming famous."
The result: you aspire to these behaviors
with hopes of becoming famous.
Even for students in college, the idea of
being on a realitytelevision show can persist
as a last resort. LSA sophomore Mackenzie
DeWitt sometimes jokes with friends about
how she plans to be on "The Bachelorette."
"When your life turns to complete crap,
it's always a viable option to go on TV and,
make a fool out of yourself," she said. "If we
can't become professionals, we can always
become reality TV stars!"
One of the largest dangers of these shows
is the overwhelming glorification of drink-
ing and party lifestyle: Entire populations of
young adults can have a similar experience
to my own in high school.
"Shows like 'Jersey Shore' totally normal-
ize binge drinking," Douglas said. "They go
out every night and drink massive amounts
of alcohol until they have something that
really resembles alcohol poisoning, which
is harmful. We do know that binge drinking
- unlike social drinking - is a problem on
campuses including ours because it is a dan-
gerous health behavior."
DeWitt echoed Douglas's sentiments from
her own experience on campus.
"It seems as though students assume the
more they drink, the more it will be like it
"A BC claims that t
e ondrinkn but in my1
becu eset as we
sameway me cote
doesn't mean either
- Commu cations Pro
is on television," DeWitt said. "They search
for that level of excitement and drama and
Reality shows don't only perpetuate an
emphasis on drinking in viewers, but they
also heavily encourage it on set as well. Emo-
tionally dramatic shows like "The Bachelor"
amp up the alcouae ontent'to make contes-
tants irrationally emotive.
When the women go to the Bachelor
house there's often no food, only alcohol.
Producers supply them. with wine, and if
that isn't enough to create drama, they crack
open the vodka, a fact that Douglas teaches
in her introductory communications course.
The cast is encouraged to engage in drunken
conduct, a behavior that is then transferred
to TV viewers regardless of age.
"I think reality television portrays drink-
ing as something fun that has little to no
consequences," DeWitt said. "It sensation-
alizes drinking because it shows these huge
parties that are exciting and colorful and
people meeting other people ....- and that's
really not how it is at afrat p,
Reality television can also
fashioned notions about sex
ing. Women-are encouraged
as "the slut" and are simulta
ued by doing so. on the opp
can be players and promis:
consequence, sometimes even
"There is this emphasis on
ing with other women over
said. "Women are stereotype
along, competing over then
judged by their experiences
1957 kind of stuff."
Shows that each season alt
as the object of affection only
"ABC claims that they hav
lorette' so they're 'gender neu
opinion, just because you ob
the same way you objectifyN
mean either one is okay," D
"The dynamics behind it is so
The concept of "The Bach:
Bachelorette" seem to be sin
arty, for exam- first in the sand we think, 'Hey, that looks
like fun?' Are the casts of reality television
preserve old- a reflection of us as a generation, or are we
ual stereotyp- the ones who set the entertainment agenda.
to fulfill roles "I feel as though people turn to real-
neously deval- ity television as an alternate source of what
osite end, men reality should be like," DeWitt argued. "You
cuous without see these beautiful attractive people being
with reward. promiscuous and doing ridiculous things,
women fight- and some people use that to justify mirror-
men," Douglas ing those behaviors in real life. Instead of a
d as not getting culture shaped by more intellectual enter-
nen and being tainment we turn to "Jersey Shore."
. That's really Television networks follow market trends
shows that don't get an audience will not
ernate genders stay on TV. Reality TV sells, making this sys-
spread stereo- tem unreliable in providing what we really
should be watching. Though the Shore team
ve 'The Bache- finally left the boardwalk for good, shows
tral,' but in my like it will keep succeeding because they
jectify men in show viewers what they want to see.
women doesn't We, as television watchers, perpetuate
ouglas argued. the presence of low-quality television.
retrograde." "Since the 1990s in particular, there has
elor" and "The been an increase in sexually explicit mate-
milar to a dra- rial in a variety of TV shows, and young
people favor these shows," Douglas said.
"'Jersey Shore' amped up the drinking and
the sex, using infrared cameras to film
scenes that suggest that casual hooking
up is the norm, normalizing it and putting
minimal attention to the importance of safe
sex and contraception. Do they reference
sexually transmitted diseases? Or even talk
The answer is no. Recently, reality shows
are nothing more than superficial. Charac-
ter's personalities only skim the surface in a
way that makes them easily classifiable: the
bitch, the whore, the player, the good-girl,
the nice guy, the clown. Even though no one
in reality is that simple, TV viewers don't
want to deal with complications in their
entertainment. So, when it comes to a one-
night tryst between "the whore" and "the
player," viewers want fulfillment without
any of the messy consequences that might
come of the situation.
"They aren't safe, and they are at risk, and
ne dating and it isn't talked about as much as it should be
competition is because that's not what they want to feature
true love. The on TV," Dewitt said.
lasting love in So what came first, the proverbial chicken
seems next to of reality television, or the degradation of
eople on real- the moral fabric of our society, represented
motives, such by the egg? TV shows like "Jersey Shore"
s of "winning" took off so quickly because of the way the
o be in favor of producers framed the people on the show.
-The mode of address seems to suggest that
especially with -the viewers are better than the people per-
who are beauti- forming these ludicrous acts on national
1 are turning to television. No matter how out of control you
they can find get, the show seems to say, at the very least
" DeWitt said. you aren't like these people!
ne dating sites. But if at first the point was to poke fun at
ological outlets the characters while flattering the viewer,
elves out there, the reality TV phenomenon has evolved
he way that we into another beast entirely. I can say with
certainty that you could get exact re-enact-
ned to our con- ments of scenarios on "Jersey Shore" right
throwing back here on campus on any given Friday night at
eremony? Why Rick's - a fact that calls into question, does
i,pass out face- anyone really want to be like Snooki?
matic combination of onlii
"The Hunger Games." The
fierce and only one can find
probability of finding real,l
front of millions of viewers
impossible, because most p
ity television have ulterior
as fame and money. The odd
reality television don't seem t
"I think it's funny because,
'The Bachelor,' these peoplev
ful and apparently successful
TV because they don't think
someone in the real world,
"It's kind of like using onlir
People are turning to technc
instead of just putting thems
which arguably is altering tI
So what exactly has happe
cept of social drinking into
cosmopolitans before a rose c
is it that when we see Snook