The Gains of Vain Reality Television

Two weeks ago the newest season of “Teen Mom 2” premiered to nearly 3 million viewers, making the rest of us roll our eyes and ask ourselves why the show even needs a fifth season.

However, according to a study recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, it seems that the show isn’t just reality show common fodder; it in fact has real positive effects in depicting just how disastrous teen pregnancy can be, decreasing the amount of teen pregnancies in America by around 6 percent. An article released by the New York Times at the beginning of January crunched the numbers, stating that 2 years before MTV’s line of teen pregnancy shows started, the birth rate for teenage girls was 42 out of every 1000. In 2012 that ratio had dropped to 29 out of every 1000. The study explored the noticeable amount of pregnancy drops in areas where teenagers watched MTV programming.

Granted, the research is not without its faults, especially since there has been a noticeable decline in teenage pregnancy since 1991, but it is interesting to consider that the show, instead of glorifying the state of being pregnant, dissuades young couples from having a child.

As reality TV shows continue to permeate television, a large question that is always up for debate is “does this show promote or dissuade viewers from imitating the individuals on reality tv?”

On one hand, by chronicling the lives of a group of people for several years, shows such as “Jersey Shore,” “Teen Mom,” and “Keeping up the with Kardashians,” glorify making bad decisions, almost rewarding the stars for what is arguably a series of huge mistakes. The most recent controversy was “Duck Dynasty,” a show which went on hiatus for a while when one of its stars expressed offensive opinions about various groups of people. Yet instead of the show getting cancelled or the star’s contract getting cancelled, the show was scheduled to continue, with almost no repercussions for the family or the individual in question.

By allowing their stars to make fools or jerks of themselves, television stations are pretty much condoning those actions, raising a new generation of young people to believe that if the people they watch on TV don’t have to be held responsible for their actions, neither do they.

But even before I heard about this study, I felt like not all reality shows had this attitude. Some of them (not all) are actually what I would consider cautionary tales, painting a very stark picture of a certain lifestyle. Anyone who has watched any of these shows, even in snippets on the treadmill at the ARC, can tell you that these people are typically painted in a very vain or negative manner.

“Teen Mom” is probably the most apt example of these, each episode depicting a new struggle in the form of their partner, their child, a new pregnancy, and family and health issues. For shows such as these, the stars may get increased publicity, but the cameras are just there to document their lives, and the crap that goes on both on and off screen is just as real as it would be even if the camera crew were not there.

Not every reality show does this of course; most of them rely on your own preconceived notions of what is “good” and “bad” to judge the people on your screen. And I think we can all agree that not everyone who watches this show has a good sense of that.

Yet I think, in the end, what you get out of a reality TV show depends on who you are, going into the show. I have many friends who watch certain shows just because they like to watch the people on the screen make fools of themselves. But I also know of people, teenagers especially, who condone what they see on the screen, supporting their favorite star. And how much they support or glorify an individual, depends on who you’re asking. Whichever camp you’re a part of though, I tend to believe that this research on “Teen Mom” and teenage pregnancies is proof that not all reality TV shows are bad, and in fact there are reality shows that do good in the world. Reality TV series may be a pain in the neck for most of us, but they’re not without their hidden gems.

 

Alec Snavely is a fourth-year electrical engineering and English double major. He can be reached at asnavely@uci.edu.