A recent Room for Debate post begins, “Several Academy Award contenders like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘American Hustle’ glorify white-collar criminals and scammers, and many reality TV shows embrace the wealthy, too. A new series, ‘#RichKids of Beverly Hills,’ is the latest example of our enthusiasm for ‘ogling the filthy rich.’ Why are we so obsessed with watching the antics of the 1 percent?”
Before you read what the guest writers say, how would you answer that question?
In the Opinion article “Why We Like to Watch Rich People,” four debaters take on this topic. Here are excerpts from each:
America’s fascination with the ill-behaved rich, expressed in both reality television and this year in many movies that are contending for major awards, isn’t limited to the current recession. But the particular incarnation of our fascination seems intended to do something very specific: help us manage our covetousness, at a time when even basic financial security feels out of reach for many people.
Black women are a cash cow for cable networks. Millions of us tune in to Bravo, VH1, WE TV and the other networks that have invested in reality television franchises. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. We drive ratings, and in exchange, the networks give us a rare chance to see black women humanized in the media.
Long before reality TV, I remember watching the fiercely decorated women of “Dynasty” plot and prance around their big, fancy mansions. Later in my tween and teenage years, my interest turned to soap operas. My favorite: the chic, sun-kissed cast of “Santa Barbara.” Soaps offered an entertaining escape to where budgeting constraints and bad hair days didn’t exist, where we could see how the “rich” lived, and experience — even if just for an hour a day — a part of their fictional lives that seemed vastly more exciting than our own.
Bruce E. Levine
Greed is now normal in our increasingly “money-centric” society, one in which money is at the center of virtually all thoughts, decisions and activities. While money has always been a big deal in America, greed was once seen as the practice of the spiritually sick — such as Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But today, greed is seen as both normal and acceptable by the mass media and mainstream politicians.
Students: Read the entire article, then tell us …
- Before you read the responses of the debaters, how did you answer this question? Why do we like to watch rich people?
- With which of the four experts do you most agree? Why?
- Do you agree with Mr. Levine that “greed is now normal” in our society? Do you consider greed to be normal and acceptable? Why?
- Do you know what schadenfreude means? Alyssa Rosenberg contends that we like watching reality shows about rich people, like the “Real Housewives” franchise, because “part of the appeal of those shows is the opportunity to judge their casts” for their bad choices and desperation. Do you agree? Why or why not?
- What movies, shows or books that feature rich people do you most enjoy? Why?
- If you are interested in how money affected one young Wall Street trader, you might also like to read the much-emailed “For the Love of Money.” It begins, “In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million — and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough.” How much money is enough? How much is too much?
Questions about issues in the news for students 13 and older.
According to the University of Michigan Health System’s study in 2010, children spend about 28 hours per week (four hours a day) watching television. Many households “usually” have the TV on, even during meals. Children often have televisions in their own bedrooms, and as they get older there are fewer and fewer rules about what they can and cannot watch. Television is traditionally thought of as the anti-education tool: after all, children mindlessly absorb television content and spend less time reading, doing homework, or interacting with others.
But is watching television all bad?
Although there are many, many reasons why television is detrimental to a child’s well-being, there actually may be a few redeeming factors as well. As educators, we generally want to be aware of these detriments, but also remain aware of the potential upsides of this enchanting medium as well.
Learning Narrative Structures
Remember those good old days with shows like “Full House,” “Family Matters” and “Saved by the Bell?”Even the eras of “Seinfeld” and “Friends” have waned. Americans in general spent more time watching sitcoms in the past than they do today. Although some sitcoms still reign in prime time (CBS, for example, has consistently hosted multiple hit sitcoms in recent years and is the most-viewed network), the true champion of television today is Reality TV (just look at the History Channel, for example, and note that the majority of its programming has nothing to do with history).
One of the positives about watching television is that – when it comes to certain types of shows – it has the ability to continually reinforce the traditional narrative structure. As children watch sitcoms, they can see how exposition leads up to the challenges in the rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. They can potentially absorb this narrative structure thousands of times outside of their regular reading regime.
Improve Reading Speed and Comprehension
Yes, you read that correctly. Television can potentially improve reading skills and comprehension -- when used intentionally for this purpose. Children in Finland have reportedly scored higher than most of the rest of the world in their reading skills. One reason experts point to is that Finnish children watch imported American shows. And the only way they can understand the dialogue is by reading the captions in their language. The captions option is often ignored in households; however, the simple act of switching this on can expose children to viewing and reading simultaneously.
You can encourage children to watch channels in other languages with the translated captions turned on. Or in your own classroom you can show foreign films or even Shakespeare, compelling students to read at a fixed pace if they have any desire at all to know what’s going on.
Television can expose children to some really horrible things. It’s ripe with poor examples, terrible morals, and enough sex and violence to make Quentin Tarantino blush. But this does not mean that these are the only things on television. When the right programs are viewed, television has an enormous potential for exposing children to aspects of the world they could never, ever access in their normal course of life. Background knowledge is essential – especially at early ages – for making sense of complex texts independently. And what better way to learn about the cultures, foods, customs, activities, histories, games, conflicts, current events, and so on throughout the world than to get regular doses of such knowledge through the visual and auditory means of the television?
Non-Fiction Educational Viewing
While there is countless “junk” television out there that offers no value to the progress of human society, there exists a great deal of programming specifically designed to teach. And lots of it is very well done. “Sesame Street” is a great example of non-fiction educational programming designed specifically to teach and entertain children. But students who regularly view age-appropriate content designed to teach them information related to any field of interest – like history, astronomy, biology, mathematics, humanities, mechanics, etc. – can easily access quality programming that will actually make them more knowledgeable, not dumber.
If you educate your students to be smart about how they consume content, then you’ll find that they may begin gravitating towards more useful programming on television. There are, in fact, many additional positives of television that we overlook when we’re raging about the sensationalism that most broadcasting has become. But our job as educators is not to automatically discredit anything: Instead, we are to show students how to think critically about any medium of communication and encourage them to make healthy, edifying decisions about what they choose to consume.
What do you tell students when you talk to them about television? How do you use videos, movies, shows, and clips in your classroom? Share your ideas with us in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.