Make sure to check out all three articles in this particular series. You can access those links here at Hollywood Jesus and at the link at the bottom of the page.
“Reality Television… I am so tired of it, can’t the networks come up with something new?” This quote or something similar is something I often hear. Of course the networks provides programming that gets ratings, if they continue to provide “Reality” television it is because they have the viewers to support the programming and they are making money. I am smart enough to know that it isn’t about a moral conscience; it is to most of these companies, about making profits.
I will admit, in my own journey of watching television I have found myself enjoying “Reality Television.” I still think an episode from Deadliest Catch, where one of the fishing boat captains dies, may be one of the most memorable seasons and episodes ever aired on television. The reality for me though is the more I have watched “Reality” programming, the more I have questioned the reality. It has caused me to question programs like Big Brother, Ice Road Truckers, and numerous others. What I am seeing, despite the concept of reality being promoted, is more scripted than real. Are the television stations lying to me regarding their programming, or am I just being foolish to expect reality in “Reality” television?
From trying to cover up an alleged rape on MTV’s Real World, to suicides involving participants from such shows as Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares and Megan Wants a Millionaire, to murder and attempted murder of guests on The Jenny Jones Show and The Jerry Springer Show and more, one has to wonder about those putting out these shows. While the programs have been careful to prevent such horrific events, the reality is, “Reality Television” has had an impact on those participating on the shows. Despite the horrors in the past, many horrors and controversies continue, including now controversy among the Hutterites over a program shown on A&E. Hutterites from King Colony Ranch, depicted in the series, have taken action and requested that A&E never air again the episodes from the season, stating that many of the scenes “were scripted.” This isn’t the first time allegations like this have been made about “Reality Television.” It was my own viewing of the program Ice Road Truckers Season 5, featuring as one of the drivers, David C. Redmon, that led me to this conclusion. As I watched the show, I noted in my review that much of what I was seeing on screen didn’t make sense. I had also noted similar scenarios on programs like Big Brother. I decided to make contact with one of the apparent scapegoats on Ice Road Truckers.
If ever looking for honesty to the point of certainly creating controversy, speak to someone like Dave Redmon. Redmon is vocal about production scripting, favoritism, plans to get him fired without his knowledge in the 4th episode before the show even started, and even reckless endangerment of truckers’ lives: “trying to get someone killed.” Redmon also provides negative images of other members of the show for their actions and more. If one ever thought grudges and hard feelings didn’t go beyond the program’s end, they would definitely seem to be wrong in the case of Dave Redmon. All of that said though, if what he says is true, and there is no reason to doubt it, there could be good reason for actions and attitudes like his.
Redmon participated in three programs for The History Channel, IRT’s Most Dangerous Highways (2 Seasons) and Ice Road Truckers Season 5. Redmon claims that the differences between the three shows are like night and day. It is one of the things that give credibility to his story. If he were bashing all programs, all cast members, one would have to wonder if the issue isn’t Dave Redmon. From communication with him, it is possible to conclude that while Redmon may be one who speaks his mind, he does so with a sense and manner that give reason to believe he was deeply misled and hurt by the actions on the programs, especially when realizing that where real life individual, needing to go back to a real life job are involved, playing with the lives of characters by scripting negative impressions of some of them is not of any value.
One of the things that come to mind here is that our impressions (and not just initial) are molded not so much by the individuals on screen as those behind the camera and in the editing booth. The script writers, producers, directors, editors, and so forth determine what we see, and how we see it. Anyone involved in film knows of the impact of these individuals. A film crew can dramatically influence a person’s image, whether an actor, or a person thinking that they are going to be fairly represented. Unfortunately, we the viewer are often duped to believe what we see; we even cast judgment, not on reality but on perceived reality, which is a totally different thing. Most religious groups, certainly Christianity, are founded on the concept that each person is important in the eyes of God. In fact, in Christianity, so important that God would send his son to die for the individual, because God values each person so much. Yet, one of the obvious dangers of “Reality Television” is that we are cast into a system where we are systematically encouraged to make judgments not on things that are real, but on things that are presented as real. One has to wonder, just as advertisers know that repeated showings of their commercials cause us to react to their products in a certain way, is it possible that the repeated showings of real people, non actors, presented in the ways the production companies want those people to be presented for better ratings, can in effect, also impact how we see others, whether a Dave Redmon, or in more general terms, a truck driver, secretary, cocktail waitress—and you can throw in any other group of people. If the answer to that is yes, then we have to question what role we play as viewers in supporting programs that oftentimes have dramatic and negative impacts on some of these people.
Fortunately, with all of the scripting that is going on in “Reality Television,” some of the horror stories that are being presented, we are seeing new programs that are looked at as more of a docudrama than they are a “Reality” show. One such show receiving a lot of attention is AMC’s Small Town Security. The show features a unique and different cast. Non actors who have many in the press singing high praise, up to this point, for the show. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Christa Stephens and Dennis Croft of the show. Christa is the secretary in the office of JJK Security & Investigations in Ringgold Georgia, just outside of Chattanooga Tennessee. Dennis is a transgendered male who is known as Lieutenant and is the person responsibility for the security operations of JJK Security Agency, which employees between 60 and 70 security guards for services of various types in the area.
The uniqueness of this program is the characters in the show. They are all unique, all different, and all unscripted. This unique group is led by Chief, Joan Koplan. Joan is a character in her own right, along with a hoarder for a husband who also tolerates the crush and love of his wife from his Chief of Security, a transgendered male, Dennis Croft. One of the primary differences with this show is the willingness of the production crew to let the cameras roll and use only what they capture. The cast assured me there is no scripting on the program, it is in fact, the real life realities, and despite how controversial and different they may be, that gives credibility and intrigue to this show for the viewer.
Small Town Security has received a great deal of praise and criticism for its subject matter and the people in the show. Unfortunately many of those being critical seem to be residents of the area. There is a fear the show will portrays a negative image of Southerners, specifically those of Ringgold, Georgia, a town that borders Chattanooga, Tennessee. As one living in the Midwest, originally from East Tennessee, I don’t find that perspective to be true. The show instead shows the uniquenesses and differences of some people. It also shows the absurdity of others, yet, in that presentation, we see hope, promise, and even moments where we are moved. By the willingness of a transgendered male to come out on local television or by the man who is dealing with issues of hoarding and who makes the effort to address needs in his life regarding hoarding, we can find room to be impacted. If the viewer allows, there is room for hope, because we can see that in the imperfections and differences of those on screen, we can be inspired to be more. We can laugh along the way; although some of the activity is sophomoric at best, it is still funny, yet serious. Is it for everyone? Obviously there will be many offended by writing too much into the themes of the show, but for many others, it will not only provide a good laugh, but a lesson in life on being yourself.
My faith tells me about God’s people, that the world is made up of all kinds of people each with unique gifts and talents. I don’t believe any two of us are totally alike. It is refreshing to see a show that shows that it is okay to be who God made you to be. It is also disheartening to think that when dealing with some people, real people especially, a production crew is molding and scripting others to be who they want them to be. I find one model refreshing and another repulsive. I would have personally expected more from The History Chanel in its programming, and the same could be said about any number of networks. On the flip, I can applaud AMC for getting it right, at least up to this point. I only hope they continue to get it right. I don’t have a problem with presenting the real lives of real people, in fact, there is more intrigue and better story when we the viewer are allowed to see people as they really are. Is Dave Redmon coming off as being a little upset? you bet he is, and frankly, I for one can’t blame him. On the other hand, despite the quirkiness, can I appreciate the characters on Small Town Security, despite their believing and acting differently than I in many situations? You bet I can! Heck, I may even have to admit, in many ways I am just like them. Like Joan, I can laugh at a good bit of passing gas, but also like Dennis, I can also appreciate the difficulty and courage it takes to share something about yourself that others may not understand or appreciate. Now for me, that is reality, not some Joe Blow sitting in a production or editing booth turning me into or representing me to be something other than who I really am. My only hope for Small Town Security is that AMC lets the cast continue being themselves. They frankly seem like too good a people to go messing their lives up. While there may be some in their community or around the world who don’t understand them, they, in the reality of at least this viewer, represent all of us, and in that, I can find value.