Stop watching

Reality television that portrays people in unflattering situations isn’t a new phenomenon. In recent years though, shows that document people’s strange, erratic behaviour have seen tremendous viewership.

TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras aims to give a behind-the-scenes look at the world of baby beauty queens, and there’s no attempt to show families in a flattering light. The more rigorous the child’s routine, the more airplay and attention for the family. Though most of the show focuses on pageant parents, watching a four-year-old get a spray tan is distasteful.

Shows like this are ridiculous, but mostly harmless. It’s reality television surrounding mental illness that is most troubling.

Intervention follows individuals who are fighting drug or alcohol addictions. Each episode is cleverly presented as documenting a life-changing transformation.

Undoubtedly there are viewers who can relate to the experiences and who can benefit from watching, but these viewers aren’t the target demographic. In reality, the show exploits people in vulnerable situations. As viewers, we’re obsessed with watching people who have inappropriate or insane habits.

A&E’s show Hoarders, now in its fifth season, and TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive, exploit people that are struggling with severe disorders. These illnesses are detrimental to individuals, their families, health and well-being. Though the up-close camera shots and candid interviews with friends and family are intended to show the human side of hoarding, sustained clips of stacked-up diapers leave little to the imagination.

Compulsive hoarding is a serious mental illness that shouldn’t be exploited for the entertainment of the average viewer at home.

My Strange Addiction, another TLC program, chronicles individuals with obsessions ranging from eating plastic to romantic relationships with dolls. Little is done to portray these people in a relatable way. It’s important that these individuals receive some form of professional help, but do we need to be there to watch it?

If these people are going public to share their stories and help others with their personal struggles, then power to them. But that doesn’t change the fact that most viewers are watching for a spectacle.

If we watch these shows to feel better about ourselves or to be privy to someone else’s vulnerable situation, then let’s change the channel.

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