Fighting Homelessness: Reality TV that Depicts Reality

Hard Earned – Parts 1 and 2

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

As it bears no relation whatsoever to modern life, so-called “reality” TV is clearly a misnomer. Most of what passes for reality TV are highly scripted popularity contests for physically attractive white contestants.

Al Jazeera’s six-episode series Hard Earned, depicting the bitter struggle millions of Americans face to stay off the streets, is my kind of reality TV. Although I myself found it riveting, I am high skeptical that any US media provider will ever carry it.

Hard Earned follows five working class families as they struggle to meet basic survival needs with minimum wage jobs.

The families include an African American Chicago couple who work full time jobs at Walgreens to support two preschool kids; an Hispanic Iraq veteran in Montgomery Maryland who works a graveyard clerical shift at the courthouse, his school counselor girlfriend and his school aged son from a prior marriage; a Silicon Valley Hispanic man who works two full time jobs to pay $300 a month to live in a garage with his pregnant girlfriend; a 66/65-year-old African American Milwaukee couple who face working indefinitely at minimum wage jobs to keeping from losing their home; and a 50-year-old white Evergreen Park (Illinois) waitress who works two jobs and survives on credit cards to keep from losing the house she bought while making $80,000 a year as a construction worker.

We are introduced to the five families in Episode 1 and 2 (“The American Dream” and “Rock Bottom”). You are immediately struck by how exceptionally bright, hard working, resourceful and above all (for the most part) physically healthy they all are. This, despite working non-stop and getting very little sleep. They are also (for the most part) extremely adept at budgeting and managing their money.

 

 

The Trump Show

The Trump Show

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This feature, which traces Trump’s rise as a reality TV star, asserts that he continues to view himself as the star of a reality TV show rather than the real-life president of the most powerful country in the world.

Prior to the launch of The Apprentice in 2004, no one in the New York business community took him seriously – viewing him as an unreliable has-been blowhard with a string of bankruptcies. Mark Burnett, the show’s director coached him how to create a new fictional narrative for himself, portraying a claw back from failure to fulfill the American Dream.

Reality TV is all about emoting, dumbing everything down and continually provoking conflict and outrage. Trump proved to be a master at provoking outrage during his battles with moderators during the election debates. Thanks to viewer ratings that shot through the roof, the networks loved him.

Because TV continues to filter reality for most Americans (especially older and blue collar Americans for whom TV is their only source of news), Trump’s apparent willingness to speak his mind and challenge hypocrisy and authority continues to resonate with a significant proportion of the US public.

Manufacturing Narcissism as a Marketing Device

Starsuckers

Directed by Max Clifford (2009)

Film Review

Starsuckers is a disturbing British documentary about the deliberate creation of narcissistic personality by the corporate media as a marketing device. It explores scientific research showing that we (all of us) are hard wired to have an irresistible attraction to celebrity and how the media uses this to manipulate us.

The film particularly emphasizes the rise of reality TV over the last decade and its replacement of drama, comedy, variety and other formats. By endlessly making so-called “ordinary” people into celebrities, the corporate media convinces us (young people especially) that true happiness lies in the entertainment industry – but only if we purchase the right products.

Studies among teenagers show a clear increase in narcissistic traits that directly correlate with the amount of TV they watch. This has led a number of psychologists to call for a total ban on TV advertising to children under 12 and strict limits on advertising directed towards teenagers.

The filmmakers conclude that the best way to improve our mental health – and that of our kids – is to reduce or totally eliminate TV viewing.