The Toxic ‘Takedown’ Fast

by Regina Kulik Scully and Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Recently, we had a discussion about a recent episode of HBO’s new drama, The Newsroom. The show, written by Aaron Sorkin, insightfully depicts the ongoing struggles within the news industry between superficial commercial interests and the reporting of real, meaningful news. The show forces us to address the appeal and value of both.

In the show’s fourth episode “I Will Try to Fix You”, we watched Jeff Daniel’s character – successful News Anchor Will McAvoy – engage in a heated discussion with a big-time gossip reporter, about the appeal and value of a ‘takedown’ piece she was working on. A ‘takedown’ piece?! McAvoy was talking about a purposefully crafted ‘news story’ to takedown (aka destroy) another person or entity. Along with McAvoy, we felt our stomachs twist and turn in repulsion at that expression…And the intent.

We’ve all seen and heard take down stories in action – they are ‘reported’ as real news everywhere we look in mainstream media outlets. They are treated as real newsworthy stories, with the sheer intent to malign, hurt, dismantle, and in some cases, destroy a person’s or organization’s personal or professional character. Why?! Primarily for entertainment, and ratings. Very few of these stories, in fact, actually enhance the well being of our society.

We understand that these stories are proliferating because they are enormously popular. But, the more disturbing question is ‘WHY are they SO popular?’. How and why have these negative, mean-spirited, zero-social-nutrient stories become staples of our media diet? When we ask intelligent, good people this very question, we very often get the following sheepish answer: “Well, I work really hard, am so tired, have so many responsibilities…and these shows are my ‘guilty pleasure’!” Guilty pleasure? What is it about watching another person’s depraved behavior, and the destruction of another’s character that fulfills many of our ‘guilty pleasures?’ Why do we as individuals and a larger culture need to fill that kind of void? What is really going on in our own lives that that kind of vitriol would provide us with this kind of psychic-numbing analgesic?

Our lust for the ‘takedown’ stories is quickly becoming a national ‘toxic’ addiction. And, make no mistake about it. We are addicted. Many of us know that what we are watching and listening to is toxic, and that it hasn’t any real value…but we ingest it anyway, daily and repeatedly, almost unable to stop ourselves. True addict behavior, some would argue. So do we as a culture – a nation – need to be in media-recovery?

It’s not a matter of imposing morality or infringing upon anyone’s freedom of choice, but all of us could be more responsible about engaging each other in asking the bigger, deeper questions of why we partake in a culture that is so demeaning of others. Are our actions really bettering ourselves? Are they promoting the greater good?

Watching shows such as Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise and The Kardashians weekly drama in and of themselves aren’t crimes, but it sure does beg the question of what is missing in our own lives/souls that such toxic, addictive ‘takedown’ material would bring us such ‘guilty pleasures.’

We can and must make a concerted effort to fill our lives with positive, entertaining alternatives. So instead of getting together with friends or family to tune into these shows which bring us all down, maybe instead we could plan a hike in nature to stimulate us, rally troops for a game of flag football, or cook a festive family feast. The end goal being healthy human communications and connection, none of which watching demoralizing reality shows together provide us.

Putting some creative thought into finding positive entertainment choices will go a long way towards energizing and empowering us each individually – as opposed to feeding toxicity into our souls. And with that purer energy, we might just be able to contribute to bettering the world we all live in.

Regina Kulik Scully is a Partner at Girls Club Entertainment, Board Member of MissRepresentation.org and an Executive Producer of Miss Representation.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom is the Founder and CEO of MissRepresentation.org and Girls Club Entertainment. She also wrote, directed and produced Miss Representation. Follow her on Twitter.

7 Comments

  1. GP says:

    Are the Kardashians and Housewives really “takedown?” They are willingly putting their lives on display.

    • Leijette says:

      It’s not that the shows are “takedowns”, it is more that we as observers are getting enjoyment out of watching the “train wrecks”. These show can only be on tv because people are interested in watching them, and we watch them because seeing the bad choices and drama in other people’s “reality” makes us feel good about ourselves in comparison. Seeing someone else engage in self-destructive behavior or malicious behavior toward others should not be “entertainment”. It should make us feel gross inside to sit and watch those things. Just because the people on them made the bad decision to subject themselves to the judgment and derision of the world, doesn’t mean we should be entertained by it. It might not hurt them any more than they already are that we are watching this behavior, but it doesn’t do our own souls any good to grow callous and desensitized to others’ humanity this way. The author of the article, and the theme of “The Newsroom” is that the news should be a reliable resource, a tool to allow people to better their lives and empower their knowledge and choices. It is not for entertainment at the expense of our empathy for our fellow human beings.

  2. Alexandra says:

    Yes, and they do love the drama. However, the footage is manipulated, situations are staged, and it is often times edited for dramatic effect. We thrive on watching women entangle themselves in this drama and the long-term effects on youth, women and society could be severely detrimental.

  3. Tammy says:

    I don’t waste my time on these trainwreck reality shows – My 22 year old daughter thinks they’re ‘funny’ I am working on helping to change her perspective -

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