If you take a look at the Emmy Award nominations from the past couple of years, you’ll see some heavy-hitting women recognized for exceptional dramatic acting. Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Kyra Sedgewick, Julianna Margulies. There are several intelligent shows that depict strong women in positions of power. There are also comedies (and hybrid “dramedies”) that hinge on smart, interesting female leads.

So why am I distressed by the current television line-up? I can sum it up in one word: Snooki.

I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

Reality shows have taken over the airwaves. They are cheap and quick to produce. Relaxed censorship guidelines allow for truly tasteless content. These programs pander to the lowest common denominator, putting so-called “real” people (read, ‘exhibitionists with no acting training’) in extreme situations. They’re forced to live together and compete in over-the-top staged stunts. They’re filmed at their very worst, egged on until they break up or break down.

None of these people come across well, and the women on these shows are such extremes that they have become a modern day equivalent of commedia dell-arte clowns. We have the spoiled rich wife, the tough-talking bad girl, the hot and horny ho. It’s appalling. (FYI, WVFC contributor Jenn Pozner explains how reality-TV producers orchestrate these very intentionally sexist results in her book Reality Bites Back. — Ed.)

A couple of highlights from this impressive new genre …

Kendra. Hefner’s smartass girlfriend from The Girls Next Door may have an incredible body, but she appears to be functionally illiterate. In one episode of the original show, when Hef took the girls to Italy, she observed that the food was good, but didn’t live up to the fare at “Olive Garden.” So what do we do with this accidental actress? Give her her own show, of course.

The Real Housewives of __________. Quite the successful franchise, with six different sets of housewives to date. These women may have enormous McMansions and plenty of bling, but don’t judge a book by its cover. They are not exactly a class act; the series should be renamed “Bimbos Behaving Badly.”

The Jersey Shore. As my 13-year old daughter would text: “OMG.”  I am speechless.

The talent-based shows like Dancing With the Stars and American Idol are less offensive to me because they do have legitimate entertainment value. After all, there is a modicum of skill involved — or to be fair, in some cases there is a great deal of skill as well as God-given talent. In Dancing, half the cast is professionals. Yet audiences seem to be just as interested, if not more, in the backstage bickering and the personal lives of the quasi-professionals.

Magazine-format and even major network news programs aren’t much better. Yes, we do get updates on the economy and the wars in the Middle East. But we also hear – ad nauseam – about eating disorders, plastic surgery, celebrity divorces, Lindsay Lohan’s latest trip to rehab, and Britney’s battle with the bulge.

Why does the television audience gravitate toward this deplorably low-rent content? Do we honestly believe these people are “just like us?” Or do we count our blessings that we only have 2.3 children instead of “plus 8?”  Are we happy with our faces and bodies? Or envious that we can’t afford ten plastic surgeries?

My hope for the future (if not 2011, maybe soon thereafter) is that whatever pendulum we’re on will swing the other way. Audiences will demand entertainment over voyeurism and trained talent over psychotic civilians. The Writers Guild of America West has more than 12,000 members. AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, has 70,000. Surely there are enough professionals to go around.

There, I think I’ve worked myself into a state – I’ll go numb my mind with Bridezilla now.

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • josie speaks up December 31, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Geez, we’re missing out on all the good stuff. We don’t have Snooki, Bridezilla or any of the others. At least I don’t think we do, maybe if I had pay TV but why would I waste my money on that? I used to refuse to watch Big Brother too- we did have that.
    Do you think the pendulum will swing the other way? I’m dubious. Look at our obsession with Facebook etc (and blogging I guess) we all want to have a little attention and celebrity in our own little way.
    In Oz we’re getting more television stations as we’re all going digital but as far as I can see we’re just getting more rubbish!

    Reply
  • Laura Sillerman December 31, 2010 at 8:30 am

    This is beautifully written and observed. Thank you, Alexandra for helping us raise our year-end voice in intelligent outrage and with a vision of a better future.

    Reply