Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Too much sharing? I was recently sent a screener for two episodes the Oxygen reality series I’m Having Their Baby which airs weekly at 10 PM ET.  The basic premise of the show, which is in its second season, is that cameras follow as pregnant women in difficult circumstances consider whether to keep their children or put them up for adoption.  The show cuts between two stories over the course of the hour.

Tonight’s episode, which is not one of the ones I screened, tells the story of Cathleen who hopes to place her baby for adoption with just about no support from those around here. As the promotional copy tells it “When she asks her mother to be there for the final decision, her mother responds, ‘No ma’am’ and basically walks out of the discussion. Friends and family don’t answer their phones, so Cathleen is forced to contend with the pregnancy, the paperwork, and the final decision all by herself. Will she go through with it or keep the child?”

The show’s second story concerns 41-year-old Jeni whose oldest daughter wants her to keep the baby. Jeni, however, believes adoption is the best option because, among other considerations “Having a 3-month-old grandson and me being pregnant is…awkward.”

While this is not one of the episodes I watched, I’ve seen enough to offer up an overall impression of the show.

First the good points. The show is genuinely captivating to watch. You are drawn into these stories which is exactly the effect good television should have.  You actually do care what becomes of the people involved (i.e. the mother, the child and the would-be adoptive parents). Moreover, the show is supportive of adoption which is definitely a plus.  So, as voyeuristic reality shows go, this is one of the better ones.

My problem with the show is that I’m simply tired of voyeuristic television.  While this one’s a lot better than, say, Cops (which really makes entertainment out of catching people at their worst) and is less insipid than all those Kardashian and Real House Wives shows, it’s still voyeurism.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to cinéma vérité documentaries per se. As one-time events they can illuminate certain aspects of life and situations that people deal that we all should strive to understand. My problem is turning these situations into fodder for episodic television (i.e. A& E’s Hoarders). When recreated on a weekly basis (for run as long as ratings will support) these premises, in my opinion, go from being illuminating to becoming exploitive.

TV once covered a lot of these sorts of subjects via movies of the week which, ironically, often dealt complex emotional issues with greater perception than their supposedly “reality” successors. But they’re, of course, a lot more expensive to produce.

Meanwhile there’s this from The Hollywood Reporter: Showtime is taking viewers to a dark place. The premium cable network has ordered a documentary series titled Time of Death, which will follow brave, terminally ill individuals as they live out their final days, supported by family, friends, healthcare teams and hospice workers, who gently help guide the process. The unflinching, in-depth look at death will air in six parts and is currently in postproduction for a fall debut.

Maybe such a show will actually help people with some insight. I don’t know. But, if it does well, will it be renewed for a second season? And a third? Again, isn’t one time enough? Maybe, in this case, the producers will realize that it is. I tend to hope so.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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