Is Poverty Porn the New Trend in Reality TV?

05 Jun 2015

Is Poverty Porn the New Trend in Reality TV?

CBS’ new reality show, The Briefcase, debuted last week to big numbers and per The Week, “continues a long American tradition of putting the poor under a microscope.” First, The Briefcase teases two financially strapped families with a briefcase containing $101,000 cash. As they learn about each other’s hardships, the families are pitted against one another and must decide how much of that cash – if any – they will share. Author and political strategist Shawna Vercher says “We’ve been exploiting the poor for sport for quite some time.  In football, for example, kids are literally abusing their bodies for a chance to make it out of their financial situation. Is The Briefcase that much more disgusting or is it that much more honest?”

Author and commentator Anita Finlay says “Maybe it’s that much more obvious. And the ‘gladiators in the coliseum’ atmosphere begs certain questions. Are we applauding or laughing at them? Are we supposed to feel better than these people? What is the point of the exercise? To me this is advocating looking at a train wreck. And this voyeuristic element reflects a disturbing trend of society at large.”  It is also condescending for rich producers to claim they are teaching poor families, and us, life lessons.

Anita and Shawna both make the point that while professional actors are paid good wages to play a role, it is more exploitative that a family may be seen in a negative light nationally (if they are “greedy”) with no script as their protection. As Anita stated: “These shows cost very little to produce compared to more traditional TV fare. The networks make a killing. The people in them, not so much.”

Is this programming just another kind of “poverty porn”? What say you?

Weigh in on our latest edition of Dare We Say…

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