I’ve been watching Australia’s Biggest Loser weight loss show because I met one of the contestants and saw him perform a couple of times. I am interested to see how he goes.
Watching these “reality” shows always reminds me of a university assignment I had to do for a sociology class. We had to select advertisements and pull them apart looking for the underlying themes, assumptions and messages they contained.
One of the advertisements I pulled apart for the assignment was a cigarette ad. I noted the way they surrounded the pack with sunshine, crystal clear sea and had it floating in a holiday type setting. The implied message was this product is fun, relaxing, healthy and it will help you take a break. I enjoyed trying to “read things” into the advertisements and I got a high distinction for the assignment.
Ever since then I have pulled most media products, including “reality” television shows like the Biggest Loser, apart looking for their underlying messages and the effects of the things they use to manipulate people.
This show, like all reality shows, is not about weight loss. It’s about turning ordinary people into money hungry sharks who will do anything to win. It’s aim is to take ordinary people and manipulate them into “good viewing” by making them into larger than life “characters”.
If the show was genuinely about weight loss there would be no voting people off, no challenges, no immunities, no way to win the game apart from being the one to lose the most amount of body weight! Everything else is media hype designed to make an ordinary and quite boring activity, losing weight through diet and exercise, into interesting television viewing.
For about fifty years society has been ignoring research into the effects of the media on public opinions, attitudes and behaviour. Researchers discovered, in the 1950’s that children who watched an adult “play” with a bobo doll by hitting it and shoving it tended to play by hitting and shoving afterwards where they had not been doing so before seeing the adult do it.
This research has been repeated many times and always with the same results – what children see they imitate. The more “realistic” a game is the better equipped they are to imitate it in real life.
When I was working in the criminal justice system I was sent to do a report on a boy who had breached his probation orders for the umpteenth time. He was only 15 but he had stolen more than a dozen cars, damaged them and a range of other types of property with his bad driving and reckless joy-rides. He had not, so far, hurt or killed himself or anyone else but he was driving further and faster and causing more damage each time he indulged in his “game”.
He stole his first car and went for his first joy-ride at the age of nine. I asked him about that offense. What made him do it and where did he learn HOW to do it.
He proudly told me he had been “driving” for a long time before he took his first real car on the road. He knew he could drive, he said, because he always scored well on the simulated driving games. Once he mastered those games he wanted to try the real thing and master that “level” of the game too.
Society argues these sorts of things are not important. Most children do not take the things they see in the media to the next level like that. Children, they say, see all kinds of murder and mayhem and most do not become violent or murderers and, they argue, it is irrelevant when discussing adult behaviour anyway. Adults, they claim, have the ability to see through media attempts to manipulate them and they are capable of making their own choices without being affected by underlying themes and messages contained in what they see, read or hear.
If that was true people would not be spending billions of dollars to create and run advertisements!
I have been lurking on the unofficial Australia’s Biggest Loser forum (link removed because the site appears to have gone down for good) and reading their posts. The forum does not allow people to post really nasty things so what I read is somewhat filtered when it comes to negative reactions to contestants on the show but people are loving or hating them according to the whims of the producers.
These adults repeatedly remind each other that the producers of the show are being very selective about what they show viewers. They are intelligent enough to know the producers are trying to manipulate them and their opinions. They know that the people they are seeing may not be “real” but they love, or hate, them based on the selective editing of the show anyway.
They rationalize that the producers cannot “create” the things the contestants do or say that make them love or hate them. They are aware that it is possible to make anyone look good or bad simply by showing, or failing to show, things in or out of context yet they are not able to resist feeling exactly what the producers want them to feel about each contestant on the show.
The contestant I have met was, initially, almost worshiped by people on this forum but now the producers are showing the other side of him. He is, I would wager, due to be voted off the show soon and the producers don’t want too many people to be unhappy about that. They are turning people against him now so they will be happy to see him go and, therefore, happy to continue watching the show.
How is it possible for society to say, and believe, that a medium with the power to turn love into hate, even in people who are fully aware of what is happening, is a harmless social force that should be permitted to do pretty much whatever it likes?
How is it possible for society to NOT see that the more violent, immoral, illegal and selfish the world gets in movies, games, and television shows the more violent, immoral, illegal and selfish the world becomes in reality?
People complain about the legal system being a failure, about criminals getting off lightly, about justice not being done. Why are they not complaining about all the movies, games and television shows that are TEACHING people HOW to commit crimes, escape justice, manipulate the legal system and get off lightly?
Most people don’t put what they learn from such things into practise but it doesn’t take most people to change the world we live in.
One nine year old boy was able to change the world, for the worse, for more than 12 FAMILIES and that doesn’t include the people whose cars, fences, gardens and homes he damaged in those stolen car joy-rides. His criminal activities were not over when I spoke to him. He LOVED doing what he was doing and I have no doubt he has taken more cars, damaged more property and made life worse for more people since I met him. I can only hope no lives have been lost, no people crippled, nothing much worse than property damage has happened.
Society had another three YEARS to go before he could be put behind bars to stop him from harming people. He may not, of course, have lived another three years. A lot of juvenile car thieves don’t but that, according to society, is the fault of the police who try to catch them.
That’s the results from one game affected child – just ONE – the mind boggles at the thought of what other things these games, movies and television shows could be inflicting on society! From where I stand the real Biggest Loser is not on any television show – it’s all of us – it’s society.
There is, I gather, a game that involves actually STEALING cars and deliberately running people down. It makes my blood run cold to think what that nine year old boy would have done if he had learned to drive a car from THAT game!
The game is fairly new to society but make no mistake. Out there, somewhere, is a nine year old boy who is learning to drive from that game. His parents will have gotten the game for him. They will not permit freedom stealing censors to deprive THEIR son of a bit of harmless fun. They will ensure he knows that what HE wants, what HE thinks is right, what is best for HIM is all that really matters in life.
Out there, right now, there is at least one youngster who is getting excited and taking pride in the number of cars he can steal, the number of law enforcement officers he can evade and the number of people he can run down. His parents have taught him the law does not apply to him. If it did they would have obeyed society and censored the game so he could not play it.
Once he masters the game he, too, will want to move to the next level of the game, real life, and master that. He will transfer the hate he feels for his victims in the game to ordinary pedestrians because he is a child and there is not much of a line between reality and fantasy for children.
I’m praying that, whoever he is, he does not live in MY neighbourhood! I don’t want him turning ME into the biggest loser by running me or someone I love down!