Think Snooki and her “Jersey Shore” pals are harmless reality show fun? The Parents Television Council begs to differ, and it has the research to back up its claims.
The PTC’s latest study, “Reality on MTV: Gender Portrayals on MTV Reality Programming,” illustrates the unhealthy sexual messages bombarding the shows’ youthful viewers. The study reveals the “harsh, demeaning, degrading and sexualized dialogue” rampant on some popular reality shows, and how often the female stars denigrate themselves and each other.
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The “Snooki Effect” is real, and high school teachers are noticing it now, says PTC President Tim Winter. Students are absorbing the cruel actions seen on shows like “Jersey Shore,” Winter says, and “it’s having a profound and noticeable effect on the way students behave.”
Among the PTC study’s major conclusions:
- Only 24 percent of what females said about themselves was positive across all shows combined.
- While terms men used for each other were often viewed as complimentary (e.g., big man, dawg, superhero, MacGyver, winner), women used far more degrading language when talking about other females (e.g., b*tch, c*nt, rodent, skank, trash bag, slut, trick, ho).
- Females talked about sex acts more than men, talked about sex more graphically than men, mentioned sexual body parts more than men, and talked about intercourse and foreplay more than men.
- Although 88 percent of the sexual dialogue between females and males across all shows focused on intercourse and preliminary activities leading to intercourse, the topics of virginity (0.2 percent), contraceptives (1.4 percent) and STDs (2 percent) were only mentioned 4 percent of the time.
Winter says his organization wasn’t looking to single MTV out when it started the study. The PTC, a non-partisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment, examined prime time cable reality show ratings to find shows with the biggest audience in the 12-17-year-old age bracket. The Nielsen ratings data yielded four MTV programs – “Jersey Shore,” “16 and Pregnant,” “Real World” and “Teen Mom 2.”
The PTC has been studying violence on television for several years now. Recently, the group discovered that while overall violence levels on the small screen have remained steady, violence against women has shot up dramatically.
And that’s specifically true for violence aimed at young women ages 12-17, the same age bracket which flocks to reality fare, he says.
Making matters worse, Winter says, is that networks like MTV directly market to teens while some MTV executives boast that they don’t let their own teens watch MTV fare.
The PTC is sharing their new study with a variety of women’s groups to spread the alarming news.
“We’ve reached out to a broader circle of groups to the left and right, way farther left than [we’ve done] before, to get a unification of mission and goal,” he says, citing Women in Media and News as one group which appears receptive to their reportage.
Winter understands MTV is unlikely to tweak its programming any time soon.
“There’s so much money at stake. They’re not going to freely downsize the level of wretchedness of some of their programs,” he says.
A more realistic hope is that advertisers will reconsider lending their brands to shows like “Jersey Shore,” and cable companies will allow subscribers to choose “a la carte” options where customers won’t be forced to pay for channels like MTV.
As for the PTC, it’s already looking ahead to another glaring media problem.
“Young boys are given a steady diet of media imagery suggesting they don’t need to be responsible members of their families,” he says. “It’s OK to live a fraternity life for their entire lives. There are no consequences of the actions they take … young boys must be told to man up.”