Media

In Search of The Real World

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc / Getty Images

Cast of the original The Real World in 1992. Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc / Getty Images

This is the true story... of seven strangers... picked to live in a house...work together and have their lives taped... to find out what happens... when people stop being polite... and start getting real... The Real World.

The Real World was – and continues to be – a popular television show, and its influence is far greater than its core MTV viewing audience. Through its collection of diverse personalities and with a willingness to address controversial social issues, when The Real World first aired in May of 1992 it started what many would describe as our modern-day reality TV phenomenon. Not only did The Real World spark a new entertainment genre, but its impact was far greater, for it helped blur the lines between authentic and artificial. In other words, one can argue that The Real World sparked an ongoing transformation of what we perceive as real in our world.

As is the case with other reality TV shows, The Real World has received numerous allegations of being simulated and/or staged. Due to such accusations, some viewers are not convinced that The Real World is fully real. Some accuse MTV of shoddy and selective editorial choices that take events out of context, and as a result, give false impressions of what actually occurred in real time. And of course, some perceive the very concept of The Real World as a grand misnomer, for in the real world people do not live like those in The Real World, as few in our world can claim to live in cost-free luxurious dwellings in awesome cities under the watchful eye of camera crews who broadcast their daily actions for millions of viewers to see and scrutinize. For many, The Real World does not seem real at all.

Grieving With or Gawking At: A Response to Responses of Tragedy

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Media gather near a makeshift memorial outside a Newtown, Conn., firehouse. Mario Tama/Getty Images

In the time following our latest national tragedy in Newtown, Conn., many have wondered where God was in the midst of these horrific events. While such questions are indeed significant and deserve extended consideration (and thankfully, many have already addressed the subject), instead of wondering where God was, perhaps the time is upon us to also consider where we are

While it is imperative to contemplate and debate the role and presence of God during such catastrophes, it is also critical to consider our collective response as a human community.

We often learn of tragic events through the lenses of news media, and of course, the various outlets possess mixed motives and results. While there is nothing inherently wrong with sharing the stories, there is fine line between seeking facts and invading privacy, and this boundary is too often crossed. In the hours immediately following the recent shootings in Connecticut, countless camera crews, photographers, and reporters crowded around devastated children and traumatized families. While some merely wished to share information and build awareness, others seemed to be more interested in ratings and profit. And so, while the debates surrounding media ethics in the aftermath of tragedy will surely continue, most would agree that even the most sensitive of camera crews, photographers, and reporters do not always create the most ideal setting for those enduring tragedy. For the sake of those who experience loss in the most heartbreaking of circumstances, we should demand something better.

Dropping the 'I' Word

Speech bubble image, Petr Vaclavek / Shutterstock.com

Speech bubble image, Petr Vaclavek / Shutterstock.com

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1 

I often wonder how frequently people think about the impact their words have on others, specifically, on the development of human perception. The conclusion I’ve sadly reached is that when a language norm is established by dominant cultural forces —such as the news media, in our day – the truth seldom matters. Once something is spoken and repeated enough times people consider it to be true regardless of the real facts or circumstances.

One recent debate clearly illustrating the power of words is around which terminology the media should use when referencing immigrants who are in this country without authorization to work. Those outlets that use the word “illegal” defend this practice by pointing to the Associated Press’ Stylebook, which designates “illegal” as the appropriate term. Those using the term “undocumented” have noted the changing circumstances within the culture and recognize that using such inflammatory terminology only adds fuel to the proverbial political fire around the issue of immigration

Q&A on Tim Tebow’s Gridiron Faith

RNS photo by Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger

Quarterback Tim Tebow addresses the media on Mar. 26, 2012. RNS photo by Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger

Can Tim Tebow do no wrong?

Michael Butterworth of Bowling Green State University has turned his attention to sports media coverage of Tebow, an evangelical Christian and New York Jets quarterback. The author of a forthcoming article in the journal of the National Communication Association, Butterworth talked about how Tebow coverage seldom treads beyond a “nice guy” image to delve into his faith.

Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Truth: Who Needs It?

Stack of newspapers photo, kret87 / Shutterstock.com

Stack of newspapers photo, kret87 / Shutterstock.com

I don't think of myself as a news-reading star; many spend far more time than I do staying informed. But I do recognize that being informed takes effort. As more and more cities lose their newspapers, and as networks like Fox abandon any pretense of journalistic integrity and simply broadcast misinformation, the work of staying informed gets more complicated.

I occasionally read broadsides from Tea Party folks and wonder what alternate universe they inhabit. Their positions seem unhinged from fact, history, and generally accepted reality. I imagine they'd say that a world informed by "liberal media" like The Times isn't any closer to being fact-based.

How do we debate important issues when we don't share a common foundation of facts? Dueling opinions are the heartbeat of politics. Dueling facts, however, lead mainly to shouting, bullying and mistrust.

The Top Six Mistakes Reporters Make About Mormons

I spent the weekend in New York at a conference I co-organized on Mormonism and American politics. We had two days of stimulating papers and presentations, an overview of which you can read here. One of my favorite talks was by veteran religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack, who has been covering Mormonism (and every other faith) for years for the Salt Lake Tribune and had some advice for journalists who suddenly find themselves trying to understand Mormonism this year during the Romney campaign.

Peggy’s basic thesis was that many reporters cover Mormonism using a basic paradigm taken from covering Protestantism, and fail to appreciate important differences. Find out what Peggy's the top six mistakes journalists make are inside the blog...

Time to Go Deeper

It’s been a bad year, and the 2012 election year looks to be even worse.

Don’t get me wrong —  there were many good and even wonderful things about 2011. I can point to weddings, great things in our family lives, wonderful moments with our children, acts of courage in our local and our global communities, and heroic accomplishments by people of faith and others of good will.

But when it comes to politics and to the media, 2011 was an abysmal year.

Washington is a dysfunctional place where we make the most important decisions about how our public resources should be allocated amidst artificial deadlines set entirely by ideological politics instead of the common good. Rational, thoughtful ideas for reducing the national deficit (while at the same time protecting our vital social safety nets and producing needed jobs) have been replaced by the politics of blame and fear.

And winning — at seemingly any cost — has trumped governing. To disagree with the opposition isn’t enough. Now politicians and pundits feel compelled to destroy their opponents’ character, integrity, patriotism, and even attack their faith.

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