Snooki’ed at the SATs

OMG, they're giving 800s in reality TV now

If your kid was among the thousands who parked his butt in a chair last Saturday for the four-hour-plus marathon that is the SAT test, you’re probably already aware that the essay prompt for the writing portion dealt with a scandalous subject, according to outraged students, parents and cultural mavens everywhere. That would be, um, reality TV.

Here’s the notorious prompt:

“Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular.

“These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled.

“How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?

“Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful?”

The little darlings who took the test and are decrying it say they never, ever watch TV of any kind; they’re far too busy studying Mandarin Chinese, developing AIDS drugs and mapping the effects of pollution on three-toed Ethiopian tree frogs. Their enraged parents are backing them up: “We do not watch TV in our house … and Reality TV or Rap Lyrics or whatever the directors of the SAT deam to be common pop culture, is not part of our daily life,” one huffed on the New York Times “The Choice” blog’s message board (and sic to that deam). Her 12-year-old son was taking the test, she adds, as a requirement to enter a gifted program at a local college. Woo-hoo on you, Mummy dear!

Kids live in the world. Parents who try to shield them and protect them from its dire influences mean well, no doubt. I worry, though, about the intellectual costs of such isolationism. Yes, reality TV is crap. So is non-reality TV. So are movies, and “Rap Lyrics,” and People magazine. If you step back and look at the weird, disjointed, frantic jangle of modern life, it’s like—well, some sort of Constantinople, a cosmopolitan bazaar of languages and interests and amusements both barbarian and civilized. Not even to glance at everything that’s on offer isn’t liberating; it’s constricting. Kids need to figure out for themselves what’s of worth and what isn’t. They can dress in just silk, but they should know what sackcloth feels like against the skin.

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