I took a random look this week at my iTunes store. Checking through the list of shows that are most popular on the Apple site was more than a little disconcerting. Show upon show in the menu spelled out “reality” show after “reality” show. I place the word in quotes because there’s absolutely, positively, nothing real about any of those shows. What I worry about, as the only parent for my children, is the message this could send to my four, very young, very impressionable children.
As a society, we seem to place too much value on fame and popularity. That list of shows indicates a message and a set of values that I (strong words from me, but I’m saying them)abhor. There is a concentration on fame and attention over intelligence and drive. It’s an era where Kim Kardashian makes millions because she videotaped herself having sex…then the “leaked” tape makes her famous. Never mind that her marriage was shorter than the warranty on my cell phone.
We’ve entered an era when a woman takes advantage of having birthed eight children and lets cameras show her marriage imploding on television. We show women competing for beauty to become a “supermodel” and say that their lack of intelligence and ridicule of curvy women is normal.
Think I’m wrong? Recently, a young person at my work knew every Real Housewife of New Jersey but looked blankly into my eyes when I used the names Woodward and Bernstein. Never mind when I mentioned Ed Murrow.
Don’t get me wrong, I watch one or two reality shows with my daughter. We make fun of the seemingly endless gargantuan ego of Tyra Banks. But without realizing I see that I’ve used it to show how it’s okay to be smart. Some contestants are intelligent, others need the break. All are focused purely on the fame.
I have a few bright spots though.
I spent the weekend with my oldest in New York. I bring this up because my daughter understands that I value different things. Over the weekend, Ella Rucker, assistant and right hand to Rene Syler, picked up Abbi at the airport. Ella and I talk a lot over email and Twitter but I’d never met her in person. Later we caught up with Rene, our host here. I told Abbi the story how Rene was fired from CBS’ The Early Show, had a preventive mastectomy and then lost her hair, all in a short span of time. Meeting both women my daughter saw that they were full of life, energy, vigor and verve. Abbi saw why I value their opinions and friendship.
On top of that, Abbi sees who I value in my life. Sure, I love the music of BB King, Eric Clapton, Robben Ford, Dave Brubeck . . . I try to emulate Cronkite and Murrow. If you asked me who my hero was I’d tell you it was my Dad. Abbi knows that for a myriad of reasons.
Photo: Dennis Beck/Broadway Tour/Creative Commons
I knew something had gone right during our NY visit. We saw a play, One Man, Two Guvnors, that’s mildly improvised and mostly scripted. When the audience tried to throw lead actor James Corden off in the middle of a major monologue he shouldered the burden without batting an eye. By end of the night we’d laughed so much we were crying. Abbi said she wants to go into drama because she admires actors who can do what Corden does. She wants to learn the craft, not just be in front of an audience. We watched Corden’s acceptance speech from the Tony Awards and it’s the most humble, emotional, and heartfelt speech . . . and he mentions the mother of his child and how he cannot wait to make her his wife.
I worry that we see fame as currency, not a curse; that we fear intelligence rather than celebrating it. We wantonly encourage lewd and destructive behavior with our indifference and indulgence of these shows, giving them the title of “star” rather than head case. We watch a show about pregnant teens or breaking addiction but in reality give them so much publicity they can’t handle when they have to face responsibility instead of the Klieg lights.
I don’t want my children to measure their success in terms of cash but in satisfaction. I don’t care if they’re eating Ramen noodles for dinner as long as they’re smiling at the end of the workday.
I want them to face reality . . . not chase it.
Do you send these messages to your kids? Do you watch these shows and add to the throng of attention-seekers, or do you let your children know you don’t admire them? Do you embrace intelligence and knowledge, or fear and belittle it?
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Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. He’s also a musician who writes and performs with his brother’s band: Manoucheri. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan and check out on his Facebook page too.