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Press Release

December 7, 2011


PTC Study Exposes “Reality on MTV”

New Report Looks at the Messages and Themes on Cable TV’s
Most-Watched Reality Programs 

LOS ANGELES (December 7, 2011) – In a new report, the Parents Television Council® examines the good, the bad and the ugly of MTV’s most-watched reality programming. PTC’s new study, “Reality on MTV: Gender Portrayals on MTV Reality Programming” is based on a content analysis of the most popular primetime cable reality shows among children and teens ages 12 to 17 during the 2011 TV season. The top four programs all aired on MTV and include: “Jersey Shore,” “Real World,” “Teen Mom 2” and “16 and Pregnant.” To view PTC’s full report, visit: www.ParentsTV.org/MTV-Reality.

The overarching question PTC sought to address was, “What messages are being communicated to young viewers through the lens and language of reality television?” The findings suggest a disturbingly unrealistic portrayal of “reality” with harsh, demeaning, degrading and sexualized dialogue. While women were routinely the recipients of denigrating language, they also were more likely than men to be negative to themselves and to other women.

“After many years of pursuing equality for women, the findings of today’s study suggest a glamorized, but grossly distorted view of what it means to be feminine. Compared to men, women were far more denigrating to themselves and other females. With so much at stake, teen-targeted reality television is doing little more than ‘empowering’ young girls to be overly negative,” said PTC President Tim Winter. 

“Study after study has demonstrated a connection between a child’s media consumption and their behavior, and Nielsen data prove teens are flocking to MTV to get their fix of ‘reality’ programming. With MTV reality ‘stars’ as celebrity role models, teens are learning that outlandish behavior is rewarded, and that degrading, sexualized language is not only accepted, it is encouraged.

“The findings from this report paint an unfortunate picture of questionable progress, both for men and for women. The version of reality that MTV is presenting lacks anything positive or inspiring.  Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi, recently told GQ Magazine that the positive material in ‘Jersey Shore’ is edited out of the broadcast version by the producers, and the appearance is that the cast members drink and party more than they actually do. Reality television isn’t reality by the time the videotape emerges from the edit room.

 “The saddest commentary is how ultimately these media themes and images serve to paint a very vivid picture of low expectations. The fear of setting low expectations for young girls and boys is that they may fulfill them. Television doesn’t just provide entertainment; it instructs teens how they should look, feel, talk and behave. It’s time we gave them something valuable to emulate,” concluded Winter.

Nielsen data were used to identify the most-watched primetime reality shows on cable among children and teens ages 12 to 17 during the 2011 TV season. The top four programs all aired on MTV and included: “Jersey Shore,” “Real World,” “Teen Mom 2” and “16 and Pregnant.” The content was analyzed for the most recent full season of each show. Data collection consisted of analysts logging the context of the language used (sexual or non-sexual), the tone of the language (disparaging, positive, neutral), the type of language and/or profanity used by the speaker, and to whom the language was directed (female, male or self).

Major Findings:

  • Only 24% of what females said about themselves was positive across all shows combined.

  • Positive dialogue between females focused on their appearance, sense of accomplishment and emotional resilience.

  • Overall, women were more disparaging than men when speaking of themselves or someone of their own gender.

  • While terms men used for each other were often viewed as complimentary (e.g., big man, dawg, superhero, MacGyver, winner), women used far more degrading language when talking about other females (e.g., b*tch, c*nt, rodent, skank, trash bag, slut, trick, ho). 

  • Females talked about sex acts more than men, talked about sex more graphically than men, mentioned sexual body parts more than men, and talked about intercourse and foreplay more than men.

  • Although 88% of the sexual dialogue between females and males across all shows focused on intercourse and preliminary activities leading to intercourse, the topics of virginity (0.2%), contraceptives (1.4%) and STDs (2%) were only mentioned 4% of the time.

  • “Jersey Shore” made up 47% of the disparaging remarks and 59% of the sexual references across all four shows.

  • The majority of disparaging language on “Jersey Shore” came from Ronnie and Sammi. Collectively, the two accounted for almost 21% of the disparaging language across all shows.

To speak with a representative from the Parents Television Council, please contact Megan Franko at (703) 859-5054 or Liz Krieger at (703) 683-5004 ext. 120.

The Parents Television Council™ (www.parentstv.org®) is a non-partisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. It was founded in 1995 to ensure that children are not constantly assaulted by sex, violence and profanity on television and in other media. This national grassroots organization has more than 1.3 million members across the United States, and works with television producers, broadcasters, networks and sponsors in an effort to stem the flow of harmful and negative messages targeted to children. The PTC also works with elected and appointed government officials to enforce broadcast decency standards. Most importantly, the PTC produces critical research and publications documenting the dramatic increase in sex, violence and profanity in entertainment. This information is provided free of charge so parents can make informed viewing choices for their own families.





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