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Media Literacy vs. Reality TV

My media literacy students recently finished a series of lessons about "reality" TV. The general thrust of these lessons is that so-called reality TV is heavily scripted (meaning the director tells the people on the show what to say and how to say it) and edited in order to force a story into every episode.  For the final day, I have the students brainstorm a list of reality shows they like and choose a couple for us to dissect in class.

This time around, one of the shows the class selected was MTV's "Catfish."  The premise of the show surrounds two self-proclaimed detectives who investigate people involved in on-line relationships. If Person A suspects that Person B is misrepresenting him- or herself ("catfishing"), the duo will investigate.  Often, the duo discover that Person B is wildly different from the on-line personality, to Person A's shock.  The show's popularity comes from the viewer's schadenfreude: "How can people get so emotionally involved in an on-line relationship, especially when they never see the other person?  I would =never= do that!"

The class got into the episode, and were actually shouting at the screen toward the end. In this case, and against all expectation, Person B (Samm) was telling the truth and had represented herself as herself. But in a stunning twist, she met Person A (Steven) and friend-zoned him. The class was heartbroken!

When the episode ended, we dissected it.  I pointed out several scenes that had clearly been scripted.  The scene where Steven meets Samm for the first time, for example, shows Steven and the detectives arriving at Samm's house--and walking into an already-open garage.  And the garage and driveway has no car.  (Because everyone keeps their totally empty garage open and their car conveniently parked far away so as not to block a camera crew, right?) And when Nev (a detective) knocks on the door, there is a long--obviously manufactured--pause so Nev can say, "Is she coming?  Did she chicken out?"  But just before Samm opens the door, Nev moves in to block the camera so, once the door is open, he can sweep aside and reveal her.  The move is so obvious and clearly worked out in advance.

There were more examples of this kind of thing.  But despite these and the earlier lessons, the class was reluctant to believe the show is anything but real.  They'd seen the movie on which the show was based and loved it. They'd fallen in love with Steven and Samm.  This was REAL, they were sure of it, and nothing I said or showed them could change their minds.

And then a student who rarely spoke raised her hand.  "I looked up the episode on my phone," she said.  "I found a couple of articles about it."

"What did they say?" I asked.

"That Samm was the one who originally contacted the Catfish guys.  She was suspicious of =Steven,= and wanted them to investigate =him=, but once they did, they decided that it would make a better story if they made it look like Steven was the suspicious one. So they turned it around when they edited it."

Horrified silence fell across the room.  "Were we catfished by Catfish?" I asked.

"The whole episode was faked." The student waved her phone.  "Says so right here."

The class exploded.  We'd been HAD in the worst possibly way.  Oh, they were upset!  Trust betrayed.  Illusions shattered.  Several still didn't want to believe it.

"Optional homework assignment," I said.  "Research the episode on your own and bring back what you find!"

The bell rang just then and they swarmed for the door, still shouting and chattering about it.

Media literacy for the win!


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Oct. 18th, 2015 08:36 pm (UTC)
As if reality TV doesn't sound boring enough...
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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