I could write a good bit on the metaphysics of “reality TV,” but mercifully, I won’t. What I will do is suggest you read this article (The Herald Bulletin, 9/29/10), and, if you have some time to kill, watch the video here. The scene the article is about starts at about the 32:30 mark of the 41-minute video.
The whole thing is about the reality TV show “Teen Mom.” It follows four teenage girls who became pregnant. One gave her child up for adoption (with the dad’s consent); others have their children who seem to be around 18 months or two years old. The father of one is no longer living; one is doing genetic testing to see who the dad is; another is negotiating a parenting plan with the father.
The article is about Amber Portwood and a little spat she had with Gary Shirley, the father of their daughter Leah. It seems Gary didn’t like the way Amber was caring for the little girl, so he took Leah and went to his mother’s house to stay for a while. The video shows what happened when he returned. Amber is busy putting his belongings out in the stairwell of their apartment. She’s ticked off that he took Leah, so she immediately begins berating Gary, but she doesn’t stop at verbal abuse. The video shows her hitting, slapping and eventually kicking him. She does so about seven times or more, while he does nothing, not even fending off her blows.
So it’s a clear case of domestic violence that was shown on national television. What’s interesting is that no one who’s involved in producing “Teen Mom” thought to notify the police. Eventually, the police received two anonymous emails from viewers and they’ve opened an “investigation.” One thing they might look into is the possibility that Amber’s assault was premeditated. Earlier in the show, she tells a girlfriend that she’s been taking an Israeli martial arts course so that “I know how to fight for what I believe in.”
One reason it’s noteworthy that no one connected with the program called the police is that the show features a short public service announcement about domestic violence and even gives viewers a link to the dating violence website loveisrespect.org. A quick tour of that site gives a hint about why those involved with “Teen Mom” didn’t report Amber’s DV against Gary. Although the site dutifully uses some gender-neutral terminology like “girlfriend/boyfriend” and “he/she,” it’s not hard to get the message that boys are the abusers and girls are the victims of dating violence. For example, there’s a test you can take to see if your relationship is abusive. All the questions begin with “does your boyfriend…”
(Just so we’re clear on dating violence, a study of 2,500 students at the University of Florida and the University of South Carolina showed that 32% of the young women and 24% of the young men reported physically assaulting their dates within the previous 12 months. Read about it here (University of Florida News, 7/13/06).)
In short, the people who produce “Teen Mom” may simply be unable to see what’s before their eyes. They may be so steeped in the lore of DV that when a woman or girl is the perpetrator, the event doesn’t register as domestic violence.
Anyway, it may be that reality (the police) may be about to intervene in a “reality” TV show. Will Amber be arrested? Will she be made the subject of a restraining order? Will we see Gary wondering aloud “gee, if I get a no-contact order against her, does that mean I can’t see my daughter?” Will Leah’s custody be transferred to him? The possibilities are many and varied. I can’t wait for episode 11.
Thanks to John for the heads-up.