Why You Should Boycott Reality TV


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New York City Council’s Civil Service & Labor Committee is investigating allegations that the reality TV industry is guilty of rampant wage theft and enforcing sweatshop conditions on industry workers. A hearing on the allegations took place on June 25, 2014. Reality TV industry workers who testified before the committee stated that they are sometimes forced to work shifts that are longer than 24 hours. Many said that they have been forced to forge time cards so that companies can avoid paying overtime and ultimately cheat them out of any pay for many of the hours they’ve actually worked.

Workers also said that the industry plays fast and loose with health and safety, often requiring employees to perform dangerous stunts, even putting their lives at risk, in order to increase their a reality TV shows ratings.

“They don’t care about safety at all. People climb mountains, do things that are unsafe. If they get hurt they [the employers] don’t answer their phone calls or hire them again,”

Helen Smith, a 30-year veteran of the industry, told LaborNotes.org. (Smith asked that her real name not be released, due to fears of retaliation by employers.)

The Writer’s Guild of America is backing employees of the reality TV industry as they attempt to have the state of New York enact regulations which would specifically protect workers in this highly lucrative, yet almost entirely unregulated sector of the television industry.

Reality TV is not exactly the unscripted, real life drama it claims to be. On the contrary, according to testimony during the hearing, most shows portray previously scripted scenarios. In many cases even the dialogue is written out in advance of taping.

Smith, who worked on the reality TV show Duck Dynasty, testified before the committee. She stated that writers for the Duck Dynasty ‘reality show’ recycled old episodes of the Beverly Hillbillies, using them as the basis for scripts.

These revelation are important because the reality TV industry has managed to avoid paying employees standard industry rates, as well as industry standards for working conditions, by labeling shows as ‘reality TV’. The label implies that scripts and actors are not used during filming, but according to much of the June 25th testimony, reality television shows do use both actors and scripts.

It’s no wonder reality TV show ‘stars,’ like the fake cast of characters from Duck Dynasty, have such an appeal for Tea Party republicans. Who actually believes that Phil Robertson’s offensive anti-gay comments were just off the cuff remarks, and not a scripted attention grab to boost ratings, that also just happened to coincide with the launch of an entire Duck Dynasty product line? The people who think that might also believe that Gilligan’s Island was a documentary film about a real shipwreck.

Duck Dynasty may be one of the worst offenders, because the show is not just scripted, but is written to promote right wing propaganda, much like Fox News. The show was promoted and hyped up by right wing media outlets who referred to the Duck Dynasty characters as ‘appealing,’ ‘real,’ ‘honest’ and ‘sincere’. Not surprisingly, the show makes headlines on Fox News on a regular basis, and the cast is always portrayed as a group of poor and persecuted innocents.

The reality of reality TV is that the success of individuals like Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson has been achieved through the illegal and immoral exploitation of hundreds of other people. Unfortunately, individuals that are willing to take advantage of, steal from, exploit and harm others, just to enrich themselves, are exactly the type of people that the “Christian” right seems to admire the most.