When “Reality” TV Tries to Alter the Reality of You

Here’s a sad story about a family participating in an segment of ABC’s PrimeTime Live . The segment was supposedly about different family dynamics, comparing and contrasting them. But it seems ABC’s “journalist” (I refuse to use this term without the quotation marks, considering their tactics) had already made up her mind about these families, and tried to make them play into the ugly caricatures she had in her own head.

A “typical Roman Catholic family,” the Farinholts, was deceived into participating without realizing that they were being “set up” as anti-homosexual bigots.

Ahhhh, prime-time “journalism.”

Listen to what the Susan Farinholt says about “journalist” Cynthia McFadden: (I added the bold print.)

During the interview … [Cynthia McFadden, one of the anchors of "Primetime Live"] “kept trying over and over again to get us to say that we think [the homosexual couple is] going to hell, that we think that we’re better than them.

“We kept making it clear we don’t believe that. We can’t know what is in a person’s heart and what’s between them and God,” said Farinholt.

However, Farinholt said McFadden would “come back again: ‘I’ve done research on your faith, and you say that if you commit a mortal sin, then you’re going to hell.’ And my husband made it very clear that if you repent, you’re not.

“She just kept going back to it,” said Farinholt. “‘OK, we’ve got two unrepentant homosexuals here, so you’re saying that they’re going to hell.’ She kept trying to leave it at that.”

Hmm.

“Research.” Well, if by “research” McFadden means she watched Jerry Falwell bash homosexuals and thus concluded that all Christians are self-righteous bigots, then… wow. Sounds like McFadden’s report is nothing more than a spectacular exhibition of her own religious bigotry and ignorance … in front of an audience that includes many Christians who will sit there and shake their heads in bewilderment at her audacity.

It reminds me of the way that Christian youth group leaders used to tell me that rock and roll music was evil because rock stars were all evil Devil worshippers. And how did they know this? Because they’d read some stories about one or two rock stars who sang some spectacularly bad songs about the devil and performed some lewd acts onstage. It’s like doing a character assassination on Bono because Jim Morisson was a rock and roll star too, and thus, aren’t all rock-and-roll stars womanizing, hedonistic, drug-addicted, self-absorbed, nihilistic bastards?

Reminds me of when I was dumped from an interview appointment on a rival network to ABC recently. They’d wanted me to do the interview because I was a Christian film critic, but they dumped me when I realized I wasn’t going to play the angry “culture warrior” bashing Hollywood for immorality. They may as well have told me, “No, we don’t actually want to hear from a Christian. We only want to hear from a bigot and and extremist calling himself a Christian. Because that’s what we want our audience to think Christians are really like.” A freakshow, that’s what “journalists” like McFadden want. That’s what’ll get them ratings. Don’t give audiences the real thing, because that gives the impression that people of Christian faith might have some integrity.

Why do “journalists” like McFadden need to ask Christians’ opinions about anything, if they’re just going to try and force us to play judgmental, legalistic, intolerant idiots? Why even raise the question “Is the media anti-religion?” when so many in “the media” openly strive to pigeonhole Christians at every turn? Heck, why not just start “The Anti-Religion Show” and send reporters out to corner, humiliate, and show more intolerance for Christians… and then self-righetously tut-tut on-camera over the Christians‘ “lack of tolerance”?

What a joke.

When is someone going to do a PrimeTime Live segment revealing the brutish tactics of arrogant and intolerant prime time “journalists”?

God bless the Farinholts for standing firm and testifying about God’s grace when put on the spot.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • Shar

    I agree wholeheartedly with Steven. I’m also an educator.

    I also think that in this visually stimulating day and age, the more classics that are made into movies, the better (hoping that the spirit of the original will remain). It’s kind of a shame that not a whole lot is left for our imagination anymore though (ie. I had such a different image in my head of what Frodo looked like before I saw LOTR-not nearly as cute as Elijah Wood in my imagination!)

    But this is the modern world, and we’ll never be able to ignore the big marketing machine, so if that big machine inadvertently causes a child to become interested in a beautiful piece of literature, well, YAY!!
    I vaguely remember reading a comment by Tolkien that kind of touches on the subject when he was referring to the commercialism of Christmas, stating something like no amount commercialism ever being able to destroy the true spirit if we don’t let it?

  • sg

    Arcade Fire. Soooooo good. Enough said.

    Aslan stalks the schools. Well, I’m a 7th grade teacher and I never had more students reading gigantic books than when the LotR series came out. I think it’s great. I don’t really use any of those materials that the studios send, but anything promoting reading is ok in my book. Well, not anything.

  • jasdye

    Hey, if Bowie can recommend them, let Chris Martin in on that action, too.

  • Wasp Jerky

    Coke, Pepsi, Pizza Hut, etc. have been sneaking into schools for years.

  • mhkingsley

    I recently posted a similar comment on my blog about the media coverage of the passing of Pope John Paul II.

  • TransatlanticGirl

    I was nodding along with everything you said. There’s way to much willingness among the media to make a quick buck off of senational behavior, and manufacturing some when there isn’t any.

    But then I read the original article, and I was immediately disappointed by its headline:
    “Family Fears Network ‘Set-Up’ to Push Homosexual Agenda”.

    I have difficulty with this for two reasons: a) The suggestion that there is such a thing as as “the homosexual agenda”, and b), that if there were one, then it must be to defame and damage wholesome Christian families.

    This is not an example of the wicked “gay agenda”, whatever that is, it’s an example of an unscrupulous TV “news” show using homosexuality as a tool to drum up controversy and ratings.

    I’m grateful you, at least, made that distinction in your post.

  • Matt Page

    This kind of reminds me of some of Prince Charles’s headlines over the last week. The Guy’s on his stag weekend with his two boys and the press are swarming round them, rather than letting him enjoy the time. Under his breath his whispers to his boys “Bloody people…I hate doing this.” but it’s picked up by an ultra- sensitive microphone. The media have been outraged claiming its outrageous and it shows just how out of touch he is.

    Ironically it’s they that are out of touch. Most people think Charles’s comments are spot on. Very very funny IMO

  • Chris Durnell

    There is sometimes another option – and that’s when they bring on a Christian who wants to emphasize the social teaching of Christ, usually on the behalf of the producer’s own politics.

  • Neb

    Show me any “reality” programming on TV and I’ll show you a carefully scripted and stage-managed production. I remember the first time I was interviewed by a “news reporter”. It was at a Civil War re-enactment where I was portraying a Confederate sailor. I’m female, and this anchorperson (another woman) was looking for some hot gossip on how female reenactors were having a tough time in living history groups. I gave her some historical accounts of women who had cross-dressed and gone to fight during “the war”, and then talked about how hard I worked at my “impression” and that I’d had no trouble so far from other re-enactors. I was very disgusted when I watched the news that night and discovered that my segment had hit the cutting room floor to be replaced by an interview with a bitter feminist who ranted about how tough she had it as a woman portraying a cavalry trooper! My opinion of so-called “news reporters” has been circling the drain ever since.

  • Nicholas

    Well, TV has to get ratings.
    Apparently, no one wants to watch “real life.”

  • Denny Wayman

    Jeffrey,

    I have a friend who casts for reality television and it is true both ways – not only do they want extreme “Christians” but they also want extreme “homosexuals.” The tendency this has to create divisions within our society is obvious in many areas – social, political, religious, racial, etc.

    Denny


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