I recently got a call from a casting director at Fox TV’s reality show Trading Spouses. (It’s not as salacious as it sounds!) Fox saw us during our first 15 minutes of fame (actually, 2.5 minutes, on CNN) and wants us on their network, too. We’ve never seen this program before, but we’re told it involves two moms from wildly different families swapping places for a week, while America gawks at the resulting arguments and break-downs.
What’s your opinion? Should we let TV crews and a visiting (presumably auto-centered) mom into the Durning home? Should Amy endure a week in a family of—umm—maybe five Hummer drivers? Would it help promote the values we stand for by making them visible to the millions of people who watch reality TV? Or would Fox use selective editing to make us look ridiculous, harming the cause?
Once you’ve had your say, we’ll make a decision.
P.S. If we do accept the invitation, we’ll be sworn to secrecy until the show is aired. So I won’t be able to blog the experience until afterward. Sorry.
I’ve watched that show a couple of times and would suggest that you decline to participate. It’s clear that the producers try to promote close-mindedness and conflict between the families. Every episode seems to feature tears and a screaming match.
The danger here is the dichotomy. These shows (also the even *more* salacious-sounding “Wife Swap”) pit these “opposites” against each other in really maipulative ways. Everyone ends up looking like a fool because everyone gets mocked. Your values wouldn’t be directly promoted, though the values of the five-hummer family would ridiculed so indirectly…. It’s that backwards-negative thing. My vote would be no, because this carless series has been so positive, so unpretentious, and so kind and this show would undermine that. Also I vote no because if you Durnings were on the show, I would feel compelled to watch (and I don’t want to; it makes me feel dirty).
I would not touch it. Run in the opposite direction. It will undermine the integrity of your personal experiment if you become media figures. Your lives become part of a circus with, potentially, you as the clowns. I can’t see any way that you won’t be held up as “Wow! Look at this! Isn’t it weird!“
This is actually a really interesting quandary. While I respect and understand the comments of the others here, and am a 100% bona fide co-op-shopping, local-food-eating, bike-commuting, sustainability-focused “elitist lib’ral” myself, the possibility of communicating your values and message to even a few of those who might watch this show is tempting.It makes me think about the outcry in my church denomination (Mennonite) regarding “Amish and the City”. Most people assumed that this reality show would “exploit” and/or “humiliate” the Amish members of the household. Certainly, many portrayals of the Amish in mainstream media do so. However, from the reports I read (I didn’t actually watch it; reality TV is not my bag, except for the occasional Amazing Race), the Amish young people were actually shown with quite a bit of respect, and came out looking a heck of a lot better than the “English” young people, based primarily on the personal integrity and values that the Amish kids had and that couldn’t help but shine through.It’s possible (but not guaranteed) that the same thing could happen with your family, and Fox wouldn’t set out to make you look bad, and/or even manipulative editing couldn’t override your family’s personal integrity. The potential benefits of getting your message out to a wider audience, and an audience that probably would not generally be exposed to your values/message, may be worth the risk of being mocked on nationwide TV. You’ll have to weigh that carefully.As to whether it reduces the power of your message in some people’s eyes by making it appear that you’re “selling out” or being “pretentious/condescending”, I have two thoughts. 1) Some people who like to think of themselves as purists will always think somebody is selling out when that person is trying to enlarge the fold, so to speak. However, if our values are more important than our prejudices, it shouldn’t matter what type of person begins to share the values we hold dear.2) As long as you are matter-of-fact about your decisions and admit the real-world challenges and failures that you face and experience (like you do in this series), and don’t get too preachy, I think you’d be alright on the second point. Your experience with the Seattle Weekly (?) writer has already taken you into this realm.Good luck on this decision. I just read on Grist that the “environment is hot” now (in a fashionable media sense, not just global warming), so maybe Fox is just jumping on the bandwagon.
This idea seems to contradict the idea of a lower-impact lifestyle. A TV shoot going on in your home would likely cause significant hassles for your neighbors and your family, and produce more pollution that you would save by going car-free for quite a while.Also, I think the medium is the message. Commercial TV is mostly about returning value for the advertising time they sell, which is mostly about consumption. You would be just the actor with no creative control. It seems unlikely that the show would come out as something you would be happy with.
I would support the “interesting quandry” post above. Yes, commercial television corrupts everything it touches and yes, you’d have to expect a significant amount of mockery and distortion of your beliefs and most of all a significat sacrfice of your personal and family privacy. Still . . the audience for such a program is probably close to a million people, maybe more. Most of the people watching the show will never have even considered the idea that they could live without a car. If only 2% of the audience took the idea seriously, that’s 20,000 people you might reach with an alternate vision of the American Dream. What I’d suggest is negotiating for a plug at the end of the show “for more information about the benefits of living in harmony with our environment, call 206-xxx-xxxx, write to email@example.com or visit http://www.sightline.org.” That kind of advertising might contact many thousands of open minds and might be worth the distortion and humiliation you’ll incur. Repeat “might.”Oh, and the other thing I’d ask for would be the right to distribute copies of the episode on DVD format .. with a video response / deeper explanation of your issues. That may seem like a lot to ask for, but what you have to offer—the extreme weirdness of living without a car in today’s car-centric world—would be just about irrestible to the producers of this show. I can just imagine how the teasers will look.Good luck with your decision either way.
No question here, I think you should go for it. The bottom line is that you can’t buy this much publicity, and there’s no telling how much visibility you could gain here even if they spin it. The goal is truly to bring some of these issues to a mainstream audience and have them think about things differently. To opt out because it’s reality tv seems elitist and exclusive. And really, that’s the last thing environmentalists should want to be. And hopefully you can spend the entire time on message and pivot each time someone taunts you with statements essentially designed to anger and inflame you. Nice of you to offer to suffer for the cause =)See http://www.agoodmanonline.com/pdf/free_range_2006_06.pdfif you don’t get Andy Goodman’s newsletters.
Unless you have worked with TV before and understand the drill, I would vote with those who recommend caution. It is very hard to get your message across if it doesn’t serve the show’s purpose.On the other hand, you may end up with one of my Hummer driving, shotgun wielding, jet boat driving neighbors out here in rural KC. Though it may aghast you, from my days in the Army I recall the Humvee as a blast to drive. 🙂
Alan…Absolutely yes with one condition: only agree to it if the producer, all crew members, and all contractors of the production go carless and truckless while doing the production in your home. Everyone goes carless or no one gets to see.Good luck!Ethan
I’d pass. While there’s potential for you and your family to educate by example, I think the negatives to your family might trump the benefit to the planet/community. Do you and your kids want to be recognized by complete strangers when you walk down the street? Do you want this experience to live on in re-runs, or on MyTube, or other medium?On the other hand, if you go in with your eyes wide open, it might be fun. Also, I’ve seen this show, and at the end you get to give the other family some money with stipulations about how they spend it. Can’t remember the amount, but maybe you can buy everyone in the family a bus pass or a bicycle?
Fox would definitely set you up with a family designed to maximize conflict. I imagine you coupled with a gun-toting, SUV driving, family that lives in the ex-urbs and thinks a bicycle is something you ride at the gym.Despite this, I have seen one or two episodes that actually have a glimmer of a positive outcome where each family learned something from the other. (I’m not a regular viewer so I may have just been lucky)The risk is being made to look like a fool which is what I would suspect Fox might try and do. Anything for ratings.
Alan and Durning Family, I am going to add my voice to those who are voting NO to your appearance on the Fox network. I do see the advantages to appearing on mainstream, commercial television and getting a sustainability message to the masses. I would use Fox’s offer to negotiate an appearance on ABC’s Wife Swap. An earlier post calls it “more salacious-sounding,” which makes me think the poster hasn’t seen the show. It is actually more thoughtful. To quote a posting about Trading Places vs. Wife Swap from the Internet: “Wife Swap is the better show. Sure Trading Spouses is wackier, louder and more confrontational – and I used to really enjoy that aspect of it. But you never (or rarely) feel like the people in the show actually learn anything from each other or become better families for the experience. Wife Swap is a bit more thoughtful, and you do get to see how the swap affects the families afterward – which I think really gives the show some great perspective.The God Warriors and toothless Wopperers are certainly fun to look at, but watching Wife Swap I’m usually more insprired than I am disgusted. And after a while being disgusted by people gets old.”—(Pagong Rateater. http://community.realitytvworld.com/boards/DCForumID73/186.shtml). Similarly, both Fox and ABC have Nanny shows (Nanny 911 and Super Nanny respetively). ABC’s version actually has something to teach parents. Apparently, I watch a bit more TV than most of The Daily Scorecards readers! 😉 As Ed Abbey instructed, I am “a reluctant enthusiast … a part time crusader, a half hearted fanatic.”
Just did a tally. 7 vote no.4 say maybe (or yes, but with conditions the network would not likely meet.)1 vote for yes.But it’s easy for us to give advice from the peanut gallery and it’s been said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Good luck with your decision!
Just remember that no matter how rational and sane you’re family is by the time they’re done editing you will all seem to be raving mad.
Two words: hell. no.
I want to see you on the show so I can say I have famous relatives. It is not that bad a show and might be fun, “education” experience. Amy seems like she can handle it.
Thanks, everybody! Your comments were insightful and helped to inform our decision.And we’re going with the majority: No.The downsides are too many and “down,” and the upsides are too few. For example, selective editing could make us look silly. It could involve humiliation for the “visiting mom.” Imagine the plausible scenario in which Fox finds a mom who’s got a real weight problem and inserts her into our lives, where there’s lots of walking and some biking. This is the kind of schoolyard cruelty that reality TV thrives on: “Ha, ha. Look at fatty.” We wouldn’t let ourselves be a part of it. Besides, the “visiting mom” on Trading Spouses gets to decide how each family spends its $50,000 reward for participating. And what would our “visiting mom” do? Probably buy us a car, which would defeat the purpose of the experiment.Of course, it’s pretty hard to walk away from $50K. Even if they bought us a car, we could always sell it and put the money to better ends: college savings, car-less vacations, donations to Sightline.But it’s easy to say No to the money when you consider two things: 1.) Fox could do a hack job that undermines our credibility and tarnishes all the good work done by Sightline and the many of you who choose to affiliate with Sightline.2. We’d be entrusting our kids to Fox and a national TV audience. In the worst case scenario, the visiting mom could be emotionally abusive. And no amount of money would convince Amy and me to put our kids in that jeopardy. As bad or worse—and despite all I’ve written in this series about how safe kids actually are on neighborhood streets—advertising our children’s bike-and-bus-riding independence and home address to a television audience measured in the millions would be irresponsible in an age when child predators know how to use information technology to prospect for victims. So car-less won’t be on Trading Spouses. No way.
How about considering an alternative medium? I’m not a TV watcher, but I go to the movies. I enjoyed the recent Prairie Home Companion movie and was left wishing for a sequel with a more pointed socially conscious message. How about approaching Garrison Keillor and suggesting the Car-less family as the subject of a future movie, or at least a Lake Wobegone or Guy Noir sketch on the radio program?
Generally, movies are harder to make and are seen by fewer people than TV. If you want to purse the TV route, I would suggest some of the programs on cable which tend to be of higher quality. For example you might want to check out 30 Days by Morgan Spurlock, the director of Supersize Me. (See Netflix description below) During the first season, he did a program where two New Yorkers lived on an organic farm for a month. Not brilliant stuff, but more respectful of the issues than network TV. From what he says on his blog, he is still going strong and Season 2 of 30 days just premiered. http://blogs.indiewire.com/morganspurlock/As for radio, I would contact Ira Glass with “This American Life.” In my opinion, he is the best radio chronicler of life’s themes and he would set your story in meaningful context. I don’t really know his popularity ratings, but I would guess he attracts a younger crowd than PHC.Finally, I think there are a number of magazines that would be could candidates for popularizing the idea. People Magazine is the obvious choice, but I would also consider the gambit, from National Geographic and Time, to “O” and Metropolis. While input from hacks like me may offer a bit of help, to really launch a successful campaign I would seriously consider hiring a publicist. Yes, I think the time has come for the green publicist! From Netflix:Morgan Spurlock (of Supersize Me fame) hosts this one-hour documentary film series that places subjects for a month in situations they’re unlikely to seek out on their own. By subjecting themselves to such circumstances, participants help shed light on social issues plaguing America today, such as the rift created by religious differences between Muslims and Christians in America, the incarcerated and the lawyers who put them in prison, and more.