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Are Reality Shows Promoting Battery and Domestic Violence?

If recent incidents on reality television are a gauge for what’s considered acceptable content, it seems the genre may have finally reached an all-time low with popular shows such as “Teen Mom” and “Jersey Shore” airing disturbing scenes of domestic violence and battery.

On the September 28 episode of MTV's "Teen Mom", a show which targets viewers 12-34 years of age, enraged star Amber Portwood violently kicked, punched and slapped her on again/off again fiancé and the father of her child, Gary Shirley. She then embarked an emotionally abusive tirade, calling him “trash” and “a fat piece of sh*t” – all in the presence of their 23-month-old daughter. MTV’s broadcast of the incident reportedly even prompted local authorities in Anderson, Ind. to launch an investigation of domestic violence. 

And on last Thursday's episode of MTV's "Jersey Shore," which also targets the same demographic, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino sparked outrage among audiences when he slapped a shocked Snooki on the cheek during a confrontation when she refused to leave the nightclub. He has since come forth and said he has “no regrets” about his behavior and said it was simply “a love tap” that signified he was looking out for her, and wanted to avoid the infamous season-one incident in which Snooki was punched in the face by a fellow bar-hopper.

“It is really not surprising that this is what reality television has become – reality television plays to people’s worst instincts and depends on people behaving badly, manipulating others, lying and violence,” Matt Philbin, the Managing Editor of the Culture & Media Institute told Pop Tarts. “The mere suggestion that a teenage girl bashing up the father of her child is somehow entertaining; well there is something wrong with that.”

Furthermore, some experts believe shows featuring the E! network’s most popular reality family, the Kardashians, could also be perpetrating violent relationships as Kourtney continues to stay with her partner and father of their ten-month-old son, Mason, despite numerous frightening incidents. In season two of “Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami,” terrified new mom Kourtney was seen cowering away and locking herself in a room with their then five-month-old as Disick litters the floor with broken glass amid a violent alcohol-induced tirade. Her sister Khloe even recently claimed Disick “has murder in his eyes,” and mother Kris Jenner likened him to O.J Simpson.

“This sends a message to young people that bad behavior can be turned into a TV show and bring with fame, fortune, nice cars and a lavish lifestyle,” New York-based psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert said “Young people look at reality stars as role models so continual airing of all of this can be very dangerous.”

And could even the family-friendly show “Dancing With the Stars" be sending out the wrong message to young, impressionable viewers? The judges on the hit ABC show last week slammed dancer/choreographer Maksim Chmerkovskiy for slapping his partner Brandy's backside during their routine, and prior to their performance, the network aired footage of the Chmerkovskiy hitting the songstress’s rear in rehearsal in order to exaggerate her hip movements.

“It’s a matter of poor taste, if even the judges didn’t think it was appropriate then the question is ‘why did it air?” But things you would never have seen on television ten years ago are suddenly becoming normalized, things that were once out-of-bounds are becoming part of daily interactions even on shows like ‘DWTS,’” Philbin continued.

But while Jenny Salisbury, the Development Director at domestic violence organization A Woman’s Place (AWP) is repulsed by all forms of violence, she does not condemn MTV and other networks for airing it.

“A Woman’s Place (AWP) does not necessarily believe that acts of violence that occur during the filming of television shows should not be shown (within reason). By not showing or making the audience aware that an incident did occur, the media would be ignoring the issue as opposed to responding to it. Domestic violence is an issue that affects everybody and needs to be brought to the forefront,” Salisbury explained. 

Instead, Salisbury argues that networks should use such incidents as an opportunity to educate young viewers about domestic violence.

“If a network were to air a domestic violence incident and then use it as an opportunity to educate their viewers on what domestic violence is and where individuals can seek help and support, they are turning a negative situation into one that could potentially save the lives of those that watch the show,” she added.

At least in the case of the controversial “Teen Mom” episode, MTV broadcast a domestic violence PSA during commercial breaks.

Furthermore, media personality and pop culture expert Sandra Zee puts the blame on the producers for airing questionable material.

“Shows such as ‘Teen Mom,’ ‘DWTS’ and ‘Jersey Shore’ are all programs that encourage the participants to act crazy in order to create programming that is exciting to watch,” Zee said. “I don't believe that the participants on these shows owe anything to the viewing public. It is the producers and team behind the show that encourage controversy.”

But, according to Philbin, these issues will not be one we see much longer, as he argues that reality television will become too much for the American public, and thus “fade to become a minor genre.”

“We are already starting to see backlash with reality shows pushing too many boundaries, eventually they will push past the boundaries of what tastes and censors will allow,’ he added. “Hopefully people will see that all the self-destructive behavior is really not that fascinating anymore.”

Deidre Behar contributed to this report

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