April 27, 2010

Why TV Makes Me Sad

I've talked about Hoarders. I've talked about the insufferable Jon and Kate and their little fame sweatshop. (I picture those kids hand-stitching fame and printing hundred dollar bills for their parents much like kids in third world countries piece together soccer balls and running shoes.) I've realized that TV makes me sad.

A couple of weekends ago, MTV was running a marathon of 16 and Pregnant. For some ungodly reason (and the only reason I can think of in retrospect was under duress but I don't recall any masked men with guns forcing us to watch) Beth and I watched a couple hours of it. Here's the premise. MTV finds kids - because they are really kids - who got knocked up and their cameras follow them around throughout their pregnancy. Drama ensues.

In one hour of the show, we were introduced to a West Virginia couple - she was 17 and he was somewhat older though I can't remember exactly how old - who hooked up shortly after meeting each other and, as a result of said hooking up got knocked up. They of course thought they had to be together forever as a result despite the fact that they quite obviously didn't even like each other all that much. We got to see them move from one double-wide to another, try and fail to buy paint for the house because they didn't have enough cash, try and fail to sell their pickup (turns out pickups have no room for a baby seat (who knew?), and, in following all this riveting action, we got to see them driving around quite a bit. And here we get to what bothered me most of all - neither of them ever wore their seatbelts. Not in any scene. I can think of no greater illustration of how ill-prepared these people were for parenthood. And also, what kind of a jackass producer doesn't say something?

Here are a bunch of knocked up kids who have quite literally no idea what they're in for. They're in this situation because they were either unlucky or irresponsible or both. And its a situation which will, without question, change their lives forever. All presented for our entertainment. Don't think that MTV put these kids on as a public service. They're not trying to show others the dangers of doing the horizontal mambo. It's entertainment, pure and simple. And as much as I am not prude in any sense, it's really kind of perverse.

MTV needs to change its name. It's no longer about music. It's about extremes being marketed to American teens. It's about showing stuck-up douchebags bitch about fame and money. It's about heterogeneous groups of fame-seeking post-adolescents artificially thrown together to see the sparks fly. It's about seeing spoiled brats enjoying obscene birthday parties. It's about seeing mildly retarded asshats stable their scrota to two-by-fours. If video killed the radio star then MTV is surely responsible for killing the video star.

Is TV and pop culture depressing you as much as it is me?

Posted by Chris at April 27, 2010 7:06 AM

Yeah, it is, especially reality TV (which I really try to avoid), or seeing the downfall of former child stars. Anything with kids, really, where the parents exploit them, where the dirty laundry is dragged out where they can't help but see it ... the only reality show with kids I can stand is Supernanny, and though it's appalling to see how bad the parents are at the beginning, I think she actually does help them all to become happier and healthier families. (I've actually "jokingly" (or not so jokingly!) threatened to call Supernanny on my friend when her kids are running roughshod over her :P )
Anyway, yes, overall the whole thing is pretty sad, but more tolerable when the end goal is some kind of improvement. (Like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, as chaotic and over-the-top as it is, they do seem to pick really needy families who do a lot of good in their own communities.)

And no I don't work for abc. But there's my two cents, anyway!

Posted by: Heather at April 27, 2010 7:24 AM

Yep. That would be a resounding Yep. Though I do depress rather easily anyways..

Posted by: Cri at April 27, 2010 7:47 AM

Sadly I caught that episode a few weeks ago and thought the same thing... These girls have NO IDEA what they are in for. (And I think that girl we are talking about was having twins... as a parent of 2, could you imagine 2 the same age? OY!)

Posted by: Leanne at April 27, 2010 8:06 AM

I find two other shows equally if not evn more disturbing...
"My Super Sweet 16"- can you say spoiled brats? And MTv glorifies this? No wonder this next generation is growing up with such entitlement attitudes!

and "Toddlers & Tiaras" -which is obviously a bunch of fat, ugly moms who have low self esteem trying to live through their little girls. I was MORTIFIED when I watched them putting false teeth in these little girls mouths to make their teeth appear perfect! Let them be kids! All that make up, they look like midget hookers! Child abuse I say.

Posted by: Lisa at April 27, 2010 8:13 AM

I have to say its also all in what you watch. I dont watch shows in general that are "depressing".

I do agree with the fact that MTV isnt about music television anymore. I wish it would go back to the way it was in the 80's.

Now they just show CRAP!

PS I think maybe you need to change up your tv watching channels to something more positive.

Posted by: SoccerMom at April 27, 2010 8:17 AM

I have gotten sucked into watching the "marathon" of this show - really shocking! Can't believe that this is what we call "entertainment". My 16 year old daughter actually joined a group on facebook which was something like "If I was 16 and pregnant, I wouldn't be on a show on MTV, I would get my a** kicked!". Loved that one!

Posted by: Sandi at April 27, 2010 8:26 AM

My problem with that show is that it's not really what pregnancy and post-partum life is really about. I mean, there's no mention of what happens to your body OR your boobs after the baby is around, just what happens when your shitty boyfriend decides to fix his car instead of be a dad. If MTV really wants to curb teenage pregnancy, feature the post-partum maxi pads that are twin-mattress thick or what happens to your nipples in the first few days of breastfeeding.

Posted by: kirida at April 27, 2010 8:28 AM

I abhor "reality" tv in every incarnation. It's all about exploitation and stupidity. I stick with things like the Science Channel and SyFy (despite the dumb spelling). Otherwise I would just lose my sh*t and throw things at our new tv (and then I'd be divorced)! :)

Life is depressing enough without "reality" and pop "culture".

Posted by: Elizabeth at April 27, 2010 8:38 AM

At first, I refused to watch that show but my husband is too addicted to reality TV to turn it off. 16 and Pregnant just makes me feel sad for them and angry at the same time. Most of them come from run down podunk towns where seemingly the only thing TO do is get knocked up. And I think it makes me most sad that Mtv sort of exploits their ruined lives. Not ruined because they have kids, of course, but because they're only kids themselves. It depresses me too. :(

Posted by: Claire at April 27, 2010 8:43 AM

Here's the problem. As awful as these shows are (don't get me started on Toddlers and Tiaras), its all about the $$ and # of viewers to these networks. If people didn't watch these shows, they'd get yanked quick. That is the scary part. A decent drama has to scramble to make it, while "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant" pulls in a huge share of viewers. It not 100% the fault of the networks. We basically get what we ask for.

That's why I generally stick with the Food Network (though to quote Jim Gaffigan, if you're full, the Food Network is kind of dumb. If you hungry, its like Food porn)

Posted by: J at April 27, 2010 8:47 AM

This is why, when my tv died, I didn't feel the need to replace it.

Posted by: k8 at April 27, 2010 9:23 AM

Why do you watch that crap? Reality TV is not entertaining. It sucks the joy out of the room whenever you sit down to watch it. At best, it makes you feel a little better because you're not in that predicament, but really, do you need that kind of crap TV to feel better about yourself? Stop watching!! More than half the TV offerings are reality based and if people would stop watching it would go away. Think back to before reality TV. No drug addicts in your living room, or pregnant teenagers, or white trash wife swappers. Ah, the good ole days!

Posted by: pinetree22 at April 27, 2010 9:28 AM

This is why we canceled cable. Closing out on a year without and we don't miss it.

Posted by: Angelica at April 27, 2010 9:29 AM

Is TV depressing me? So much so that our household 'cut the cord' about 6 years back. With a good internet connection, I can honestly say that I have seldom missed it. The only time in recent memory was the Olympics, and even then the coverage on the internet was adequate... i just didn't get to enjoy it in 1080p.

If you want my advice, get rid of the lot of it. Buy the shows you like either on DVD or from places like iTunes.

At this point, my life is so commercial and idiot free that I find even listening to commercial radio drives me mad. TV? Forget it.

Posted by: martin at April 27, 2010 9:30 AM

Most TV depresses me. Guess that's why I don't watch much.
We are, unfortunately, currently living out the teen parent situation through my stepdaughter, who is 18 and expecting a baby in June. It's the sad truth that so many teenage girls actually ASPIRE to get pregnant. It's partly a status thing, but for so many of them, they think having a baby means there will always be someone around who loves them.
It broke my heart that my stepdaughter couldn't understand why we weren't happy that she got pregnant. Sigh.

Posted by: Traci at April 27, 2010 9:55 AM

Yes. But honestly, it's forced me to better things. I see TV differently now. It used to be a big part of my life and now it's just something that I can fill the last hour of the day with.

And to be honest, the DVR has changed everything. I watch sports live, but everything else is selected and taped for later.

I haven't even SEEN a music video in years. You'd think they'd at least be popular online but surprisingly not.

Posted by: Brad at April 27, 2010 10:01 AM

It would, if I watched it more. Mr. Wonderful loves to mindlessly watch the tube, so I'm really glad our house has two stories, so I can escape the TV wherever it may be playing. About the only thing I watch any more is Top Gear (a hilarious car show on BBC America), and I get my news from NPR so I don't have to put up with the over-dramatized shock journalism. Life is good. :D

Posted by: Michelle L at April 27, 2010 10:42 AM

One word, YES!

Posted by: Maribeth at April 27, 2010 10:44 AM

Yes. I unloaded cable after football season to concentrate on science baloney (a lot of reading/writing) and although I have rabbit ears for the TV that work like a champ, there's nothing on the networks that I want to see. ESPN, the Food Network, and occasionally some hot TCM action were about it on cable, too.

Hulu is as close as I get now. Actually, if you haven't seen the animated FX show Archer yet, you need to run, not walk, to Hulu and watch the entire first season immediately. It's incredibly funny and just all-around awesome.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at April 27, 2010 11:16 AM

yes, but it's like a bad train wreck. i. can't. turn. away...

Posted by: kati at April 27, 2010 11:38 AM

I didn't have a TV set for 12 years (wasn't my idea -- the ex was very anti-TV). Now I have a TV set that doesn't get any channels, because the signals are blocked by the buildings where I live and I refuse to pay for cable when I have no idea what I would be watching. I do watch DVDs a lot.

Anyways, conversations with my friends usually go like this:

Friend: Have you seen Show X? It's great!
Me: Um, no, is that a TV show?
Friend: Oh right, you don't watch TV. But you should see this show!
Me: So what's it about?
Friend: It's about geeks who are lost in this NBC building and get together for brunch once a week to discuss their sex lives and solve cold cases for the FBI requiring extreme forensic analysis (or whatever the show's about).
Me: Oh. Um, sure, I'll have to check it out sometime.

Once you stop watching, TV gets *more* weird and awful, because reduced exposure means you're no longer part of its culture. The bonus is you feel less depressed because you're (hopefully) off doing less depressing things. As you point out in the Weekly Time Suck every week, there's still lots of opportunities for mindless entertainment without TV.

I still watch TV shows, but by renting an entire season's worth of DVDs of one show and watching them all in one weekend. I loved watching Rome and Dexter like this. The rest I find bewildering.

Posted by: Kat at April 27, 2010 11:45 AM

I'm glad to see that there are a lot of other weirdos here who don't have the tee vee. I thought I was the only one. In fact, I just got interviewed for an article in our local newspaper for a story about people who have dumped cable in favor of internet viewing. I don't even fit that profile because I haven't had TV for a decade, and I watch maybe an hour a week of programming online; but apparently I was the only guy in our city of 1.5 million who didn't have cable!

Reality TV is depressing, but I think a lot of people watch it and feel better about themselves compared to the poor saps on the shows. Which is also depressing. I used to teach high school, and my wife is a doc at a community clinic, so we see teen pregnancy and generally idiotic behavior all the time. And it's free! (And depressing.) As others have said above, though, there's a market for garbage programming. And fast food, meth, Fox News, etc.

Check out the (lighthearted) piece I wrote about TV and the perils of raising children on a media diet of NPR. http://butterbeanandcobra.blogspot.com/2010/03/tv-free.html

Posted by: beta dad at April 27, 2010 12:40 PM

I don't watch a lot of TV and your post pretty much says why. I hate reality TV. We've been watching a lot of Doctor Who (the new guy). My reason for optimism is that all my kids still seem horrified by the idea of sex (granted, they are 12, 10, and 10, so that's no big accomplishment). I'm with you, though. I'm starting to feel old since I have a hard time getting what all these whippersnappers are into these days.

Posted by: Brooke at April 27, 2010 12:40 PM

I'm ashamed to admit that I watch 16 and Pregnant - and I'm not sure why I do, probably for the same reason I watch Hoarders, but it gives me the willies just watching it. To see such bleak situations on television. They ought to disallow such programming, really, the networks shouldn't be able to profit from something like that. I watched the episode you're discussing and the saddest part was that poor boy seemed to be doing everything he could to make the situation 'right' while the girl had no idea that considering her situation, she was lucky to have him around. It made me sad that she couldn't see it could be so much worse. Don't know what that says about me, but it was my honest reaction.

Posted by: Megan at April 27, 2010 12:49 PM


You put this so succintly that I can't add a single thought. It's perfection.

So obviously, as you can see, I am in complete agreement with you.

I have BLOCKED MTv from my house. There is NOTHING on that channel I want my boys witnessing. And honestly? As cool as I thought the first season of The Real World was . . . I credit it with the degredation of our society to its current state. Way to go, MTv!

Posted by: Mindy at April 27, 2010 1:14 PM

well...maybe you are just feeling old today. Seriously, if MTV did play music it would be crappy fake eletronic sounding music performed by people dressed for trick or treating. I feel old too.

Posted by: linda at April 27, 2010 1:22 PM

No, TV doesn't depress me at all, because the only time I ever turn it on is to watch the Red Sox (which is sometimes depressing, but that's another story). I do not ever watch anything else on TV. Not ever.

Posted by: Karen at April 27, 2010 2:20 PM

Pop culture pretty much disgusts me. There's another movie called The Pregnancy Pact that's on Lifetime periodically about a bunch of girls in a high school that made a pact to all get pregnant at the same time. Messed up society we live in. I think 75% of people who have children shouldn't. If you don't have money in savings you've got no business having a child. You can't afford it, plain and simple. If you're planning to have your children raised by a nanny - you don't want to raise the child yourself, you shouldn't have one. Things like this just annoy the crap out of me!!

Posted by: Rose @Dozenroses13 at April 27, 2010 2:33 PM

I think I feel a bit differently about the show then others. 16 & pregnant, I believe is as gritty as it gets, and I think that is the way it should stay. Speaking from second hand experience, having siblings in the same situation as these girls, all the crap these young females and males go through, they are all so similar. The show is enabling all those young people that are having sex far far too young, to possibly step back, and rethink. 16 & pregnant is so full of raw emotion, on both the young parent's side and their parent's half, to me it's painful to watch it, but unlike most reality t.v., I think it can do some good. Also unlike some, I really do admire Dr. Drew, he really does want to help people..

Posted by: Heather at April 27, 2010 3:10 PM


Posted by: Katherine at April 27, 2010 3:22 PM

YES! Just as F@X news has killed news. Therefore I'm reading more and falling headlong into an old hobby of crocheting just to pass time.

Posted by: Becky at April 27, 2010 4:45 PM

I don't watch TV. I hate reality shows for the very same reasons you identified. Instead, I cook, read, write, and spend time with my family. The only channels I might watch are Food Network Canada or Discovery Channel documentaries. Movies, maybe.

I don't need reality to remind me of the weirdness of the world, I was a foster parent in a group home for 10 years, and I've seen far more than I care to remember.

Posted by: Scatteredmom at April 27, 2010 7:18 PM

I've pretty much given up on TV (altho right now I'm sitting in front of the nightly news). I frequently tell my husband and daughters "I hate reality TV." I do. Usually. I get enough reality in my life. (I have watched an episode or two of The Amazing Race...I have to admit). I really don't watch more than about 2 hours of TV a week though, and I'm counting the time I might sit in front of the news while reading blogs. I don't even have any interest in the crime tv serious that my entire family is entranced with. What would I watch? Friends. M*A*S*H. and Dexter, if I had Showtime.

Posted by: Lojo at April 27, 2010 7:28 PM

Unequivocally: YES.

Posted by: rougeneck at April 27, 2010 7:34 PM

I need to add - for the record - I don't hate all reality tv. Nope. I don't. Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, Myth Busters and How It's Made rock my socks. I love The Alaska Experiment, the Blood, Sweat and Takeaways/T-Shirts series and Renovation Nation on Discovery's Planet Green Channel . . .

So basically - while I do admit to loving reality tv, it's gotta be the really educational/borderline documentary/completely geeky type. Only!

Posted by: Mindy at April 27, 2010 7:48 PM

Yep, yep, and yep.

Unless it involves crab fishing, busting myths, or real-life detective work catching criminals, I've about had it with "reality TV". And MTV is the absolute worst. What's really frightening is how many teens actually think they can get away with behaving the way these spoiled shits on "Jersey Shore" and "The Real World" do. Pop culture at its lowest.

Posted by: diamond dave at April 27, 2010 8:41 PM

In a word, yes. Very sad.

Posted by: Jodi at April 27, 2010 8:51 PM

I stopped watching MTV (and VH1 for the most part) years ago, when they switched over to a reality show format. I don't know why they haven't changed the name from MTV to RealiTV.

Posted by: coolchick at April 27, 2010 8:51 PM

on 3.26.2010 i gave up TV. i realized i was paying money to watch other people's lives while mine passed me by.

being in my mid-40's, i can confidently state that i had not lived a day without TV since the Johnson administration.

now I am delighted to pass time with satellite radio, books, magazines, PEOPLE (not the magazine, the species), watching clouds, and laying on the floor with my dog.

(and if you ask rull nice, and pump me full of beer, i will re-enact the 'ijustdroppedoffmycablequipmentforever' dance sometime. it was a sight.)

Posted by: coral at April 27, 2010 8:55 PM

A show with nobody telling them to put on their seat belts, is just as bad as all the shows showing teens having sex without condoms. Not that I think t.v. should be responsible for raising our children, but when no one else is, it couldn't hurt.
As for the show - yeah - depressing, but like half your readers, we stopped watching t.v. years ago and watch everything we're interested in on the computer. Doesn't cut anything out, just means we have to think about it a few seconds longer than flipping the channels.

Posted by: Zip n Tizzy at April 27, 2010 10:25 PM

You just listed off a small handful of the reasons I have not watched TV is several years. Its disgusting how stupid they must think we all are.

Posted by: Debra at April 28, 2010 1:32 AM

And we wonder why girls in high school (and possibly younger) make 'pregnancy' pacts and want to have kids while they are still kids themselves. I mean, I guess I understand that the makers of the show are trying to show kids that it's not so glamorous or wonderful, but I think it is backfiring - hey, if you get pregnant, you can get on MTV!

Makes me very sad.

Posted by: cyndy at April 29, 2010 9:51 AM

Amen! You're right: MTV isn't about music anymore. I stopped watching a long, long time ago.

Posted by: Nadine at May 1, 2010 3:18 PM