Hook-up culture is having its moment on cable television.
In just a few days, VH1 will be rolling-out Walk of Shame Shuttle, essentially Taxi Cab Confessions for the basic cable tier; a reality series in which a drivers pick up young adults after a one-night-stand and get them to talk about their hook-ups on camera.
Like Sex Box, currently airing on WE tv, Walk of Shame Shuttle isn’t about helping the young adults who have clearly made some poor choices, choices they will probably come to regret; it’s an exploitative gimmick, a cheap stunt designed to attract viewers looking to laugh at these people who have laid their sex lives bare on national television for a little notoriety.
And given its TV-14 rating, it is also abundantly clear VH1 isn’t going after adult viewers. They are targeting teens, who will be taking their social cues and expectations about sex, love, and relationships from the individuals profiled on this show and others like it.
Multiple studies have established television’s place as a “sexual super-peer,” feeding the perception in the minds of impressionable young viewers that everybody is having multiple casual sexual encounters, and that there are no real-world consequences for this kind of behavior.
However, this isn’t the extent of TV’s celebration of cheap, meaningless sex.
Later this month, the A&E network (formerly Arts & Entertainment: a network once associated with high-brow entertainment like America’s Castles and quality dramas like Horatio Hornblower) will be skimming the very bottom of the barrel with a new reality series about a community of “swingers”– couples who trade sex partners – called Neighbors with Benefits.
In trailers for the series on the A&E website, we are told by one woman that she’s “just your every day, typical, suburban housewife except that…” “We are swingers!” her husband chimes-in. Another woman says, “Swinging enhances the love that we have.”
As if reading from the same script, a different woman in a second trailer says, “Swinging is a way to enhance the relationship that you already have with someone.”
Kudos to whoever at A&E is coaching these women to keep them on script. It sure looks like they’re working hard to sell America on the notion that having sex with people outside of your marriage is good for your relationship.
In yet another clip, a husband announces to party guests that “You’re allowed to help yourself to anything in the house.” His wife asks coyly, “Am I part of the house?” “You are part of the house,” he answers. Is this what a loving relationship looks like? A husband treating his wife like another piece of furniture? Just part of the house?
Most parents want to help their children make smart choices. Most parents want their children to find healthy relationships built on a foundation of mutual respect. They want their children to find love and happiness. But that’s not the future shows like these would encourage. These programs undermine the teaching and values that parents work so hard to instill in their children.
There are those who would claim that this is progress; that programming like this is merely reflecting the realities of the modern world. But data suggests that television is not so much a mirror as a hammer. It doesn’t reflect reality back at us; it shatters old paradigms and reshapes the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs of the viewer. Instead of promoting healthy, committed relationships, these networks have chosen to celebrate behavior that is ultimately destructive. And as a cable subscriber, you are footing the bill.