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Debating Reality TV

Does reality television do more harm than good?

That was the question Tuesday night at New York’s Crosby Street Hotel as members from the Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society and the Parliamentary Debate Society of Columbia University squared off to determine whether Snooki, all those Hoarders and the thousands of Real World castmates are good for our society.

The event, “Cocktails + Conversation” was hosted by Halogen TV, a network dedicated to socially-conscious entertainment. Harvard argued against reality TV, while Columbia defended it.

The Harvard team’s argument centered around the fact that on shows such as Jersey Shore, its castmembers rise to fame and fortune without any inherent talent, “Snooki and The Situation could very well be multi-millionaires,” the Harvard team argued, “and I don’t think that’s the right message to send to our society.” They went on to contend that reality television rewards those “who act like jerks,” which they argue goes against the traditional societal values that success comes from working hard, not from getting in fights or acting stupid. They finished their argument by stating that reality TV “simplifies” people into their common stereotypes.

Columbia countered, arguing that — like it or not — reality television represents our society, because if people didn’t want to watch it, it wouldn’t be on. (At an HRTS Newsmaker Luncheon back in April, Sallyann Salsano, who’s 495 Productions produces Jersey Shore, said that she gets many of her ideas for shows by watching how people interact.) Columbia also took the position that they weren’t there to argue whether reality TV is inherently “good” for our society, just that it’s no worse than anything else on television. They finished by saying that its easy to look at the Jersey Shores and Real Worlds and make assumptions, but those are just two of a wide scope of television shows. Shows like MTV’s World of Jenks, where filmmaker Andrew Jenks follows people from different walks of life, who — as the Columbia team argued — would never have their story told without television as a platform.

While both teams made good arguments, there was one glaring omission: American Idol. There was only a slight reference made about Fox’s ratings juggernaut.

In the end, the three-judge panel — by a vote of 2 to 1 — decided that the Columbia team made the better argument. Score one for Snooki.