essay questions like this on the SAT? - "“How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?”
S- "I didn't know what to make of the question- I don't watch any reality shows."
Me- "But we do. Consider that we watch the Food Channel chef competitions. Don't you realize that all those are scripted to a great extent?" He looked nonplussed, and I gave up trying to quarry any meaning from watching his expression. After all, he is a teenager who thinks that his parents are clueless.
The debate has gotten louder, with some parents crying foul for the precise reason that they have banned all TV viewing, insulating the kids from what is going on about them, convinced that TV is the agent of Satan in the house.
The essay question came with a brief explanatory prompt:"
“Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular. These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled. How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?"
Does one have to be an avid reality show or even TV fan to think of an answer to the above question? No.
We aren't TV Luddites, and while we don't stay glued to the TV to watch self-confessed reality shows like Survivor, we do watch a fair amount of other shows, like Iron Chef, The Daily Show, Antiques Roadshow. These are the other type which are carefully, lightly scripted to cater to an audience's expected narrative, even to the point of raising expectations and dashing them-the unreal "reality" shows. Even the politics/current affairs based shows aren't immune from this kind of scripting.
A telling incident on the pervasiveness of modern media in teen culture. As my family walked past one of those teen mecca stores in the mall, we saw prominent display of a T-shirt with the following slogan and a print of Charlie Sheen , the current doyen of misbehavior: "If you aren't in Sheen's corner, then you must be a troll'.
I wondered aloud, "What exactly does that mean?", and was treated to a kindly explanation by S, who clarified the reference. "I think that it's probably the least funny slogan I ever saw on a T-shirt", I complained.
S laughed:"That's because you didn't get it."
And we all laughed, as I realized that my 'not getting' something that was supposed to be funny, was a joke in itself.
At least, I won't complain about an SAT essay prompt that asks for an analysis of celebrities gone bad. There is very little in that respect that I can shield my teen from reading about in this hyper-connected world that we live in.