Most people view reality TV as a guilty pleasure. I tend to agree—that it can be a pleasure to watch and that we should feel rather guilty for it—but not just for the reasons you might imagine (exploitation, public humiliation, greed). Shows which prey on the lives of the desperate to wring a few emotions out of the audience are nothing but reformulated morality plays, crafted so viewers are placed in the enviable position of judge and jury, deciding who is worthy and righteous, and who is not—a position that the Bible makes clear was never meant for us.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the new, controversial CBS show The Briefcase. The premise goes like this: a family in financial need is given a briefcase full of $101,000. Naturally, they freak out on camera and are overcome with happiness. Then they are told that there is another family, just as in need of money as they are. And the family has 72 hours to decide if they will keep the money or give some (or all) of it away to these strangers in need.
I suspect that as many viewers watch the countenances of the previously joyful families fall, they start to feel it is inappropriate to watch for personal entertainment. A tragedy, the intimate struggle of morality that we all face, lit by hot camera lights and sandwiched by advertisements for stuff we don’t need. And then you find out the twist: the other family is given an identical suitcase and told an identical story, but neither is aware of this fact. The next few days go by in a blur, and the families are given bits of information about each other and eventually paw through each other’s homes, looking for clues about their life situation, what their financial and social pressures ...1
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