Tuesday, May 10, 2011

ABC's What Would You Do? Is Cheap, Exploitive Television

There is something that just rubs me the wrong way about the ABC series What Would You Do?

When you watch a show that is based on practical jokes and pranks, they sort of let those people off the hook at the end, no matter how outlandish the situation and break the tension.

But in the case of this show, if those who happen to witness the little pieces of live theatre don't respond in the theoretical way they are supposed to, then they are made to feel like they are horrible people because they didn't get involved.

I think that the goal is the audience watches it and thinks that these people are just sitting there letting this bad thing happen to someone else and that they themselves wouldn't do that if they were in that situation.

One of things tends to get stressed a lot in our social discourse is not to be confrontational. When you are a kid, you are punished for being disruptive, even if you have a good cause for doing so, and as an adult, there are societal pressures to not get involved, to mind your own business.

In some of these situations, you don't know if escalating it is going to end up with you in a fist fight or being involved in an incident where the police are involved. You might even get shot because you don't know how crazy that other person is.

And it isn't like the group dynamics of this sort of thing hasn't been studied based on real life events. They even have a name for it: the bystander effect. People, especially in setting where there are a lot of other bystanders, tend not to get involved in situations.

What else I've noticed from watching these segments is a lot of the time, the people who get involved are those who have personal experience with that particular kind of scenario (which again, is consistent with the bystander effect).

For example, there was a situation where a waiter in a New York restaurant refused to serve a gay couple and their kids. One of the few tables that was shown standing up for the couple and their kids was an older interracial couple, and in a scenario where a person was ripping on a bagger at a grocery store who had Down Syndrome, a guy who had a sister with that same condition came out and berated the actor playing the prick and comforted the actor with Down Syndrome.

I am sure there is a lot of reality show editing going on as well and prodding... because if they didn't get footage they wanted, they would just keep hammering on the issue so they can get a response from a witness to the events.

The thing that occurs to me when thinking about this whole show is it doesn't address the people who saw the made up injustices and while they didn't say anything, did watch the events in question, decided that they wouldn't patronize that business again and that they would tell all their friends about what they saw. Or they may have whipped out a cell phone with a camera on it and recorded the incident.

And correct me if I am wrong, but in the past, didn't news programs expose the businesses that engaged and encouraged that sort of behavior rather than creating those situations themselves, because I think their news gathering dollars would be better spent going after them rather than unsuspecting members of the general public. Then again, it is probably a lot safer for them to go after the latter group since they don't buy advertising.

It is just really horrible television, and given some of the other things that are on, that is saying something.

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