A&E: Reality TV, The Death of Decency and the Masked Media
Americans at home and people around the world have watched over the past few months the unsettling and confusing televised images of fiery protests in North America’s streets as the realities of racial injustice and political upheavals here play out in the midst of an international health crisis.
Hospital emergency rooms overwhelmed, violence in the cities, burning buildings, rubber bullets, mothers linking arms to protect protestors, impatient young people face to face with angry police, physical attacks on the press. Death, destruction, lost leadership, surfaced amid the realization that history has not been honest about the roots of American democracy. Racial and religious discrimination, injustice and unrest have their roots in the nation’s failure to preserve and protect a democratic free press, and insist upon its honesty.
Our media debacle—the privately owned and controlled systems for distributing to millions of Americans messages about who and what we are—goes far beyond troubles in the “news media.” It has infected also the evolving entertainment media, represented by reality television and the license that institutions such as A&E have taken to create false narratives in its search for profits, no matter the social disruption they create.
The recent cancellations of programs endorsed and foisted on the public by A&E’s top reality-TV bosses—Paul Buccieri, Rob Sharenow and Elaine Frontain Bryant, among others—and funded and promoted for profit by A&E owners Disney and Hearst corporations, have come on the heels of disclosures that their “reality TV” is faked, phony and provocative only for the sake of money.
Moral and ethical responsibilities in programming—clearly ignored by A&E in its production of false narratives that stir religious hatred, as in The Aftermath, and promote racial stereotypes and encourage hate speech and discrimination, as in Live PD and Court Cam and similar false-reality programming, has had a prominent role in the devolution of social justice.
A recent national poll by Gallup and the Knight Foundation that studies media issues showed that a majority of Americans believe that the “news media” is biased rather than objective; intentionally inaccurate, to push a specific agenda; filled with misinformation (particularly online); and responsible for political division in the country (but could do a “a great deal” to heal divisions).
And yet, despite that widespread distrust, media still is viewed by most in the country as “critical” (49%) or “very important” (36%) to democracy.
How these contradictory ideas can exist simultaneously in the minds of Americans comes with clues to the influence of non-news media—the docudrama serials and documentaries like the discredited Generation KKK, and now heavily debated, and cancelled, Live PD. These programs that A&E contends are pictures of reality, but instead lie to the public about what is true and what is false, are part of a propagandistic approach to the real America.
These social upheavals have left tens of millions of American families wondering what happened to the ideals we once believed in. What has happened to trust, respect, dignity, equality, compassion and the preservation of the commonweal? Are we witnessing the death of decency?
As this question plays out in conversations around kitchen tables in communities across the country, it becomes an ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail, circling itself endlessly without conclusion, a conundrum without resolution. How do we return to “decency” and to an American ideal we thought we knew and once believed we had achieved—where freedom is sacrosanct and inclusive.
It may be that the ideals American democracy has “lost” never truly existed. Our history has been distorted for decades by publishers who contributed textbooks that teach our children a false view of how the world really is, by publications that hide the flaws in our democracy and give power to an elite media whose interests are confined to profit.
That media world we so poorly understand—mostly hidden from us in corporate boardrooms and elite venues, controlled by individuals whose names we barely know who serve agendas that the public cannot see—has allowed historical distortions that are now being exposed in painful ways.
We have lived with the illusions that America’s media empires have foisted upon the public for decades, that have hidden the racial and social injustices so alive and well in our democracy, on our streets, in our courts, our prisons, our voting booths, our politics and within our own homes.
Those hidden persuaders, like A&E’s influential executives and the cynical apologists like media celebrity Dan Abrams, who works for them, not for us, and who continues to defend the racist stereotyping of travesties like Live PD, have sown the seeds of the destruction of decency. And we are reaping their harvest.