selling the drama
Last week in a sleepy rural Alabama town, a young boy was freed from 7 days captivity in an underground bunker. The week earlier 65 year old, Jim Dykes, had boarded a school bus, shot the driver and taken 6 year old Ethan hostage. Dykes then locked Ethan in an underground shelter he had constructed on his property. After 7 days US army troopers stormed the property, shot Dykes and rescued Ethan. Ethan witnessed 2 fatal shootings in one week. Next week on US television Ethan’s mother, Jennifer Kirkland, will appear on the “Dr Phil Show” to recount in detail her son’s harrowing 7 day kidnapping. Not only is Jennifer appearing, but Ethan will also be spoken to by Dr Phil on the program. This little boy who has just been through unimaginable terror will now be put on show for the whole world to scrutinise.
Things are different in Australia but in the US and Europe people go on talk shows to air their dirty laundry every day. We have shows like Dr Phil, Judge Judy, Geordie Shore, The Real Housewives, Keeping up the Kardashians, Jermey Kyle, Shahs of Sunset… and the list goes on. The majority of high rating shows on television today are reality based programs shipped in from overseas. You can’t flick the channel without being invited in to someone else’s personal life.
For some of us it’s a guilty pleasure and I don’t mind admitting that I am obsessed with these kinds of shows (much to my husband’s dismay) and they are pretty much the only thing I watch on TV. But shouldn’t we be drawing the line somewhere? When does telling your story cross the line in to exploiting it?
I have nothing against Jennifer Kirkland appearing on Dr Phil. I have nothing against her telling her story and explaining what she went through over those 7 days, I’m sure it will make for compelling and terrifying viewing for any parent. My issue is that she is allowing her son to be part of it. How could you not want to do everything in your power to shelter and protect this child from any more harm? How could a parent think for one moment that allowing their 6 year old child to appear on national television to a global audience is a good idea when they haven’t even had time process what they’ve been through?
I’ve wondered what I would do if it was my child, and I’ve imagined what my mother would do if it was me. There would be no TV cameras, no media interviews, no Dr Phil McGraw. A simple statement to let the wondering world know that Ethan is safe and doing well is all that should have been considered. What this family needs now is privacy and healing.
I’m sure for now the Kirkland family are being taken care of by their community and receiving worldwide support and messages of love, but how long will that last? The camera crews have already packed up and moved on and next week there will be another headline on the 6 o’clock news and another family ordeal playing out on the Dr Phil Show.
As for the tragic reality TV I love so much, I know that one day the world will tire of watching the Real Housewives get drunk at parties and yell at each other and will change the channel, the Kardashians will eventually reach the end of their very long 15 minutes of fame and be cancelled and the Shahs will ride off in to that sunset in their luxury cars. Eventually they will all end up as tacky TV shows we all used to watch and B grade celebrities no one wants to know.
For these families who sell themselves for television ratings, what will be left when the film cameras stop rolling?