I am not quite sure what it is, or why I am drawn to it, but quite often I find myself watching reality TV. It is a hard thing to admit publicly, but there I said it. I am not proud of it, but I do watch. Sometimes I am channel surfing and get caught up in the drama that is unfolding in front of me, or sometimes I am walking by the living room and find myself plopping down next to my wife who is enjoying one of these high octane shows.
So over the last few months I have been thinking, is reality TV a complete waste of time or are there any lessons we can learn from these shows that millions tune into each week? In the right context I believe that these shows can serve a greater purpose. I believe much of the criticism of these shows is warranted, however in some cases we may be able to take away some very teachable moments.
Recently, I had the opportunity to guest lecture at Suffolk Community College for a Psychology 101 class. I was lecturing on how to identify the signs of domestic violence. A few seasons back there was a highly publicized domestic violence issue on the Jersey Shore. So instead of starting out with stats about domestic violence and what to look for in an unhealthy relationship, we started out talking about two of the main characters on the "Jersey Shore" who were in a volatile relationship.
All the students watched the show and all could identify in one way or another. It allowed for an open discussion immediately. The students could identify what was right and wrong in the relationship. It was an amazing segue into my actual lecture. It also provided a safe forum for other students to share their personal experiences.
So often domestic violence is not talked about because it happens behind closed doors and the incredible stigma that comes along with it. However, this reality show provided a vehicle for a real honest discussion to take place about a topic that is all too often uncomfortable to discuss. It provided a venue to show the millions tuning in that these things really do happen. This is a real important point that should not be underestimated. Many victims of domestic violence express that they feel like they are the only people in the world going through such a challenging experience. On this night, the "Jersey Shore" facilitated a real discussion that allow 8 out of 25 students to disclose they had been in or are currently in an abusive relationship. It was more powerful then any stats I brought with me that evening.
This season the "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" also has dealt with domestic violence issues. To its credit, the show tackles the issue head on, and does not shy way from all the many perspectives that comes along with violence in the home.
So when I am asked why I like reality TV, for me, I think in some cases there is a simple answer. For years we have been shying away from talking about domestic violence and other critical issues. Finally, a spotlight is starting to be shined on these very important issues. People are starting to talk. We made great strides in raising awareness. People are standing up and starting to say abuse will not be tolerated. I do believe that we can credit some of that progress to the often criticized reality TV genre. At least we are starting to finally talking about the suffering that is going on in our own families. So maybe now instead of saying that all reality TV is just a waste of time, we can try to find those teachable moments.
is the director of , a domestic violence advocacy agency.