Barbara Glickstein is co-director of the Center for Health, Media & Policy.
Can reality TV challenge media stereotypes and address the social biases people living with depression and anxiety disorders face? Stereotypes about people are common in main-stream media and can be off the charts on reality television, which is a dominating force on television. I’ve sat watching some reality TV, and I confess, I am not fun to watch them with, just ask my kids. As a media person, I think it’s important to check them out occasionally to critique them to evaluate what messages they’re selling. I tried to watch Jersey Shore once, I didn’t last more than 10 minutes. Imagining that Jersey Shore would take on the issue of mental illness was pretty surprising.
For those of you not familiar with MTV‘s show Jersey Shore, it’s a series that follows eight housemates spending their summer in New Jersey. In the most recent episode, “Jersey Shore” member Vinny Guadagnino walked out of the house after a bout of anxiety. He announced that he has left the show because of his depression and anxiety, and launched a campaign to assist those with mental health issues. He’s penned a book that will be released in April, Control the Crazy: My Plan to Stop Stressing, Avoid Drama and Maintain Your Inner Cool . He’s also launched a website.
Check out this article in AlterNet by Krystie Yandoli, “Jersey Shore” — Mouthpiece for Mental Health Problems? She raises the question of its potential impact on the audience of Jersey Shore viewers, a show with record-breaking ratings that reached almost 9 million viewers in their third season.
The Kaiser Family Foundation published a report, “The Reality of Health: Reality Television and the Public Health.” The report was published in 2006 – and suggested that the impact of health messages in reality television programming is complex and confusing and requires further studies. Six years later there’s significantly more reality TV programming. It’s here to stay. Someone will have to take this on. Who’s going to take on 1000s of hours of viewing to study the health issues it addresses and their public health implications? It’s won’t be me but I am most curious about the findings.