News & Politics

10 Revolting TV Shows That Need to Die

Television influences our culture and mental health. Here are shows that we need to kill like a virus.

TV has a profound impact on our culture, for better or for worse. The United States has roughly 2,218 broadcast stations, and 98 percent of households own at least one TV—and it’s not going away, as even people without televisions still watch their favorite shows online. Many of those shows are politically reactionary. Here are 10 of the most politically revolting shows that are both wildly popular... and need to get off the air, ASAP.

1. Toddlers and Tiaras

TLC’s look into the backstage world of child pageants—where parents doll up and sexualize their very young daughters (JonBenet Ramsey, RIP) -- was initially quite fascinating when it launched in 2009. Seeing the different ways these stage parents train their children to adhere to complex, grown-up, consumer-defined beauty standards was hard to watch, but useful in a sociological way. But as the show has grown—and many of these stories have been told—it’s felt doubly exploitative, compounding the parents’ exposure of their children to experiences they can’t yet begin to understand with a freakshow eye on the pageants. Plus, it’s hard not to feel complicit in child exploitation when you’re watching a one-year-old crying because her hairpiece hurts. The worst part? “Toddlers and Tiaras” has spawned a host of knockoffs, including “Dance Moms,” in which a dance teacher yells at competitive eight- and nine-year-olds like they’re Marines, and “Little Miss Perfect,” which encourages consumer culture in five-year-olds. There’s no way the normalization of this subculture of gussying up tiny children and pitting them against each other can be good for anyone.

2. Last Man Standing

It should probably come as no surprise that “Home Improvement” stalwart Tim Allen is starring in a new show about masculinity. But it is quite disturbing that his return to ABC, in new series “Last Man Standing,” is so adherent to stereotypical ideas of masculinity and femininity, if not downright misogynist. The trailer, bragging about how he’s a “man’s man” (a voiceover superimposed on a clip of Allen beaming at an assault rifle), depicts women as either whiny and spineless or ball-breaking and “not woman-like.” Allen, of course, is oppressed in this horrific environment, and when he’s not grousing over the fact that his son is at the tanning salon (too feminine), he’s making rude, misogy cracks on his single mom daughter (she: “I do not need a man”; he: “you’ve got a baby, looks like you needed a man once!”). Utterly gross. And if that’s not enough? The network is airing this show as the first in its Tuesday night Cock Block, followed by...

3. Man Up

Three best friends find themselves in a state of suspended adolescence, not only avoiding adulthood with late-night World of Warcraft sessions, but trying to ruin their ex-wives/girlfriends’ happiness by sabotaging their new relationships. Oh, and the one guy who’s married? His wife hates having sex with him, of course. This one’s of the Apatow-variety comedies, wherein emotionally stunted men get away with their Peter Pan syndromes with relatively little consequence and the women are over-it, shrewy wenches who broke their hearts. Also: it’s frigging called “Man Up.”

4. Border Wars

Speaking of normalizing/glorifying horrible aspects of American culture, National Geographic’s disturbingly popular show follows patrol agents along the US/Mexico border as they search for smuggled drugs and/or immigrants. This show doesn’t incite violence per se but it’s certainly ripe to drum up xenophobia—despite its handling of the issues from a journalistic objective—as most of those captured in Texas and Arizona are Mexican nationals. Certainly the show illuminates some of the truth surrounding the deadly drug war and the horrific realities of unsafe immigration. But some agents are almost gleeful about finding Mexican cadavers, and its depiction of strong and patriotic border agents can be jingoistic. “Border Wars” has been accused by critics of being propagandistic, indeed. Last year Racialicious called it "a perfect example of how the popular media tends to misconstrue the issue of immigration through a sensationalist approach to the problem."

5. Millionaire Matchmaker

This reality TV show focuses on millionaires looking for spouses, which is essentially like dudes purchasing a wife. In addition to reinforcing the concept that rich men are more desirable than non-rich ones (they’re not necessarily!), the entire concept commodifies love in a way that makes it seem like a transaction. How is this even legal?

6. Outsourced

NBC’s comedy line-up is generally quite good, particularly in the case of the Amy Poehler-led “Parks and Recreation.” But “Outsourced” almost tips the scales in the opposite direction on its own. The premise: a white man moves to Mumbai to run a processing company staffed with Indians. Cultural differences ensue, many of which involve cultural stereotypes, which NBC tries to pass off as comedy but is merely insanely offensive. (Also: evidence that the only way networks will put more than a few token people of color on prime time is when they are degrading themselves.) Fortunately, “Outsourced” got canned earlier this summer, but disturbingly, there’s a fan movement to put it back on the air. Here’s our official missive to NBC: don’t resurrect the most blatantly racist sitcom in recent memory.

7. Jersey Shore

Yes, I recently defended “Jersey Shore” from critics who were essentially calling it declasse—and I certainly have seen every episode up to now—but there is one huge problem with the show: the dudes who screw women they think are ugly or fat, then secretly call them “grenades,” and mock them onscreen. It’s the ultimate in sexual degradation, and one thing I absolutely will not miss when the series finally ends after this season.

8. I Hate My Teenage Daughter

Ugh, another new network sitcom to feel gross about. Two moms are constantly complaining about their teenaged daughters, who turn into prototypical Mean Girls after their moms have spoiled them and raised them absentmindedly. Paints teen girls as vapid idiots and middle-aged women as bitter, hateful, youth-resenting wash-ups, and reinforces beauty, youth and bitchiness as the traits by which women are to be judged. Also, using the term “hate” toward your own daughter for such banal reasons? Seriously?

9. The Real Housewives [Of Various Cities]

Yet another reality show that trivializes the lives of women, yet glamorizes drama, wealth and the life of the bourgeoisie, while painting a clutch of rich ladies as shallow, catty winos who have nothing better to do than talk smack about each other. Most recently, “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” was criticized for continuing with its season after one of the housewives’ ex-husbands committed suicide as a direct result of the show airing out their divorce and painting him as a monster. Is there anything these shows won’t exploit?

10. Bridalplasty

The absolute worst in reality television: 12 brides compete to win a dream wedding... and plastic surgery leading up to it. The princess fantasy gone perverse, and one that reinforces low self-esteem. It is the concept that unless the wedding is perfect, the marriage won't be, either... and that "perfection" includes the bride changing her body through painful surgery to conform to someone else's idea of beauty. The brides on the show are quite depressing, but again, they reinforce the wider concept in society that women are not acceptable the way they are. Another catch: the show is hosted by Shanna Moakler, a plastic-surgeried ex-Playmate.

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.
Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Environment
Food
Media
World