Bravo agreed to broadcast suicide prevention PSAs in the aftermath of the headline-making suicide of Russell Armstrong, the disintegration of whose marriage was brutally documented on Bravo's The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. But what reality television really needs is "a voluntary, industry-adopted ethics code," says Linda Holmes at NPR. Voyeuristic viewers will never stop hungering for the emotional warfare that reality TV supplies, so the least networks can do is create — and abide by — standards that limit the psychological toll these shows take on their participants. That could mean limiting alcohol consumption, instituting mandatory counseling, making contracts public, and requiring that contestants get a reasonable amount of sleep. Is it time for a reality TV code of ethics?
Yes. Industry-wide standards are a must: Reality show participants — rarely aware beforehand of what they're truly getting into — are at the mercy of producers, says Aidan Morgan at MamaPop. A code of ethics is necessary to protect them. And it could protect shows, too. As the genre becomes more popular and its stars more exploited, expect more tragedies like Armstrong's. "The television industry will start having to watch its back," and this code could help.
"A code of ethics for reality television? It's high time"
No way. A code is unnecessary: Reality show participants aren't exactly innocent, says Jaime Weinman at Maclean's. The truth is that they often do know what they're getting into. Indeed, many participants are exploiting shows — "for fame, and the good things that come with it" — as much as shows exploit them. Plus, the adoption of such standards could have a chilling effect on television and make reality shows a lot less fun to watch.
"The reality TV code"
"This is all a pipe dream": The notion that reality TV producers and their networks would voluntarily adopt an ethics code "is laughable on its face," says Matt Zoller Seitz at Salon. "Humans can be astoundingly greedy and stubborn," and the people who are making money off high-octane — if psychologically harmful — reality TV dramas are unlikely to curb their ways unless the government forces them to.
"Should reality TV adopt a code of ethics?"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The latent sexism of the male marriage proposal
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Bush vs. Clinton in 2016 is the perfect way to make millennials hate politics even more
- The real story behind Deliver Us From Evil
- This judge is the reason we're still fighting over net neutrality
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- After Ferguson: Stop deferring to the cops
- The hilarious hypocrisy of Republicans complaining about the imperial presidency
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The lessons of Japan's latest recession
Subscribe to the Week