Spoiled rich kids offer viewers a false reality

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Rich kid Seth Cohen from The O.C.

Last night, Laguna Beach spin-off The Hills’ second season premiered, demonstrating just how infectious our culture’s infatuation with shows about rich teens has become.

When it premiered in 2003, The O.C. drew audiences in because it catered to people’s desire to be extremely wealthy. The O.C. continually pointed to its characters’ wealth, if not with its constant portrayal of glamorous parties and houses, then by portraying Sandy Cohen’s job as a legal aid lawyer as “bad.”

Most of the characters’ problems and successes seemed to have economic undertones, letting audiences muse over how different their own lives could be if they were millionaires. While arguably the show portrayed money as a curse causing numerous psychological problems for the Cohens and their friends, the characters in the nearby Chino ghetto say otherwise. Even the show’s premise " a rich lawyer taking in a poor kid from Chino " suggests money solves all our problems.

The O.C. was only the first in a barrage of TV shows focusing on the lives of wealthy teens.

MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 covers very wealthy 15-year-olds, preparations for their “Sweet 16” birthday party. This unscripted “reality” show gives audiences a taste of what it’s like to be a really, really wealthy teenager.

Most My Super Sweet 16 fans claim it’s funny seeing these spoiled teens throw hissy fits at their over-indulgent parents because the new car keys are for a Lexus and not a BMW, or screech at party planners because Jay-Z won’t perform at their bash.

When I consider the real lives behind the gloss of “reality TV,” it isn’t funny. It’s sad. And it’s sad we’re buying into these shows so much they’re multiplying faster than the number of celebrities in rehab.

Even shows supposedly having nothing to do with money celebrate the rich life. Jackass spin-off Viva La Bam shows Bam Margera playing practical jokes on his parents. Unlike Jackass’ disgusting and ridiculous stunts, Viva La Bam’s are more wealth-centred. In Bam, the guys race Lamborghinis. In Jackass, it was golf carts.

This seemingly recent surge of wealth-obsessed shows is highly disturbing. Although an over-emphasis on appearances and money on TV isn’t new, instead of shows with wealthy characters, shows are now about the characters’ wealth.

So why is watching the kids on Laguna Beach whine about their boyfriends during $6,000 shopping sprees or watching Bam demolish his family’s cars so addictive? Are we hoping one day we can constantly party and spend our money irresponsibly like the kids on The O.C.?

People saw how money changed Ryan’s life on The O.C. Just watch Bam and see how money makes being a “Jackass” all the more fun. In these shows, money provides a realistic and palpable solution for everything " even if it doesn’t solve anything.

But as is the case with the coke these kids are probably all on, becoming addicted to wealth-centred TV can be dangerous. So if you plan on watching The Hills this season, remember these superficial “reality” shows are not " nor will they ever be " close to reality.

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