I’d Turn off the TV

Have you seen the television show called “What Would You Do”? The hour-long program airs on ABC on Friday nights. Actors are planted in public settings where they play out some kind of interpersonal conflict: a shopper behaves cruelly towards a grocery bagger with a disability; an interracial couple announces their engagement to racist parents who freak out; a waitress applying at a restaurant is told she can’t wear a Muslim head covering on the job.

The storylines are completely fake. But unwitting bystanders overhear these exchanges, and the question to viewers becomes: Will they intervene? Will they come to a stranger’s aid? Will they stand up for what’s right? Or as host John Quiñones puts it, “When you think no one is watching, do you step in, step up or step away?”

The premise sounds promising. After all, we know people are mostly kindhearted. So wouldn’t this show simply demonstrate the best side of humanity?

It certainly involves a whole lot of hidden cameras, disguises and intrigue. But the only real mystery on this show is how long it will take before a variety of unsuspecting Americans are revealed to be bigots or wimps. They’re the ones who hang back, maybe grimacing in disapproval or whispering to their friends when they see a disturbing altercation, but never really getting involved. And then there’s all the make-you-squirm scenarios that are acted out specially for the show: An over-the-edge mom throws her squabbling young children out of the car and drives away. A badly battered woman walks into a restaurant followed by an abusive boyfriend who berates her. Why do we want to watch people make this stuff up? Sure, maybe some of them were inspired, as the host says, by real-life news. But hello: who really needs to see them re-enacted in all their gory details? Isn’t that a bit like gaping at a car wreck?

Unfortunately this kind of setup not only brings out the best in people, but also the worst in a few folks who take the wrong side, or just hang back in apathy. And that seems to play right into what the producers are going for: The WWYD website promises to “draw outrage” and make you “cringe.” Sure, high drama makes great reality television. If helpful bystanders stepped in every time, there wouldn’t be any show.

But, see, I don’t think we need to fabricate more ugliness. Although I like the idea of a TV show that makes us think about when and how we offer a helping hand to someone in distress, this one doesn’t do it for me.

What Would I Do? Probably turn off the TV.

10 responses to “I’d Turn off the TV

  1. I watched that show once and it made me so uncomfortable I no longer watch it. As you said, there’s no need to show this kind of behavior on TV. There’s already enough ugliness on TV and in the world.

  2. Agree whole heartedly , I find it difficult to watch that show, although have watched it once. It seems that there is such a proliferation of real life shows that they have to recreate scenarios now because they have run out of topics.

  3. Glad to know it’s not just me! I still think the premise of the show is interesting, but I’m disappointed in the way it’s handled (exploited?).

  4. Totally agree with your POV, Lisa, and glad you`re voicing your discomfort.

  5. I’d absolutely turn off the TV – but then I am not a fan of any reality TV. Don’t we get enough reality in our lives every day?

  6. I think you’re right Lisa that the premise is a good one, but then for whatever reasons, the “hype” takes over and they (producers, directors, “actors”, etc.) start going for the shock value to draw viewers.

    When I hear about shows like this, I am so glad we no longer get American tv stations from our antenna. CTV and Global show some of them, but I am able to avoid them as there is usually something better on CBC or TVO–and that’s the extent of our choices, which we don’t mind at all.
    I’d be with you in turning this off. Shows like this will run their course, as others turn them off too.

    You have so many great takes on this “good deed” theme. Keep up the great work. It’s inspiring.

  7. Nice to hear so many of us are on the same page!

  8. Oh my goodness am i really reading these comments? Because it makes you feel “uncomfortable” you don’t like it? There is enough ugliness in the world and on tv? What are you people thinking ?! This show is absolutely amazing. It shows how racist and ridiculous random people can be. I used to think we lived in a fairly kind-hearted world. However this show has shown me the truth that there are only a handful of good people ! Definitely none of you in the comment section. We need these kinds of shows to remind us that racism abuse etc still exist today! We need these kinds of shows to spread the word and help make our world a better place. If this show even affects 1% of its viewers and they do something different in real life then would that not be wonderful? I am ashamed at some of you for saying that there is too much ugliness on tv or in the world and that we should turn our backs to it. Dear author, I am disappointed in you.

  9. Thanks for your input, Herman. I’m glad you’re getting some enjoyment out of this show, and certainly everyone out in TV land is entitled to their own various opinions. What I’m sorriest to hear, I have to admit, is that this show has convinced you there aren’t many kindhearted people in the world – especially considering, by your own admission, you once thought otherwise. As for me, I’m still firmly in the camp of faith in most people, including faith in all of the vibrant people in this comment section. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts (and for calling me dear).

  10. First of all i want to say thank you for replying with a positive attitude. Second of all i apologize if i came on as too harsh however that’s what happens when emotion clouds judgment I guess. Yes it is sad that I have been convinced that there aren’t too many kindhearted people in the world. Being a science major in college has forced me to always see the evidence and facts in a scenario including this show. The facts are that in most of the episodes “only a handful” of people are willing to help. And in some cases only 1 person dials 911 out of several bystanders. I don’t take the faith approach because faith doesn’t cause change. As far as the show is concerned it deals with muslims being treated unfairly, gays not having equal rights, public vandalism etc etc and I believe that all of these things are the most important aspects of our society today. It is because of this racism, ignorance and hatred that we have wars, crime and conflict in our world. People need to know that there are too many uneducated people walking around selfishly and not giving a care in the world to others. That is what this show I believe does. It educates many that being a bystander is just as terrible as committing the crime itself. This show fuels my passion and now I know that the next time I see something out of place I will have no doubt or fear on what to do. Yes I have seen a few hours of the show on YouTube for a few days now and am enjoying it. I am sorry to hear that this show doesn’t interest you and the few people who commented however I am glad we were able to have a civilized discussion about this. Once again I apologize for criticizing you and your viewers, it was not my place, every human being has a right to their opinion.

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