Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

The Death of Shame

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

The Death of Shame

Article excerpt

Imagine if you overheard someone call you a "moron" or "boring" or refer to your "fat crooked ass." And suppose a camera caught you blasting someone as a "prostitution whore" or "white trash" - or if all of America could watch you writing a response to a girl who'd emailed your 15-year-old son naked photos of herself, while your husband acted like a frat boy about the whole thing.

What would you do? Would you: (a) shrug your shoulders; (b) cringe; (c) consider a name change; (d) go into hiding.

Pick anything but "a" and you'd never make it in reality TV.

In this ever-expanding television genre, reading strangers' nasty comments about you, hearing supposed friends saying awful things about you, or watching yourself or loved ones behaving badly is all part of the job. (The above examples are all real.) Little is private, nothing is sacred and nobody ever seems to be embarrassed or regretful about anything.

As "Jersey Shore" star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi told us recently, "You need to have a hard skin to be in this business. And we don't care what anybody says about us."

No one is advocating a return to the Puritanical days of Hester Prynne-like public mortification. But have we no shame anymore?

Eight years ago when we posed this same question, the reality genre was still fairly new, but already shockingly shameless. And things have only gotten worse.

"Producers really want good TV and often, extreme people make great TV," says Richard Levak, a licensed clinical psychologist and personality expert who used to screen candidates for "Survivor," "The Apprentice" and other prominent reality shows.

The complete lack of shame that he now sees in his practice - and that we see on TV - is kind of an over-correction, he says. "When I was growing up, shame was a primary form of control. You would be ashamed of yourself if you did something immoral or selfish, and because it is so effective, it was overused, and many people were unnecessarily shamed," says Levak. "During the '60s and '70s and '80s, shame went out the door, and self-esteem was seen as a very important variable, which it is. But what happened was, everybody got a trophy for whatever they did."

The problem is that a child has to earn self-esteem "through perseverance, hard work and controlling their impulses, and all of those things are no longer being modeled," says Levak, noting that what many public figures - from politicians to film and TV stars - model today is: "You are valued for how selfish, self-centered and opinionated and lacking in moderation you are. People get publicity by being immoderate."

Lack of moderation can also extend to reality-TV viewers - a point that Bravo's Andy Cohen has tried to convey to Aviva Drescher, Carole Radziwill and Heather Thomson, the new cast members of "The Real Housewives of New York City" (which begins its fifth season Monday). …

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