Whether you want to watch some “real” life stories about polygamy, Southern sassiness, building tree houses, raising kids or rising stars, reality television has you covered. In fact, if you can dream it, it's probably on TV. (“Naked and Afraid,” anyone? Sounds like my baby before bath time.)
But I don’t let my two young boys watch any reality TV. Reality shows in the “talent” genre aren't always family friendly.
I should know — I competed on one around 10 years ago. Even waaaaay back then, some of the contestants’ outfits and song choices were more PG-13 than G rated. And behind the scenes? Forget it.
“America’s Got Talent” is one variety talent competition that is hot right now. Recently, Utah’s “One Voice” children’s chorus advanced to the next round of auditions with their amazing performance of “Burn."
I tuned in recently. The show started out fine, featuring a beautiful aerial artist who had overcome some major adversity by kicking a chronic illness’ bootie and flying her way through the auditions to the next round.
But then along came a stand-up comedian, a young boy, who was around 12 or 13 years old. My sister, who was watching with me, got all excited to see what this seemingly sweet and innocent kid thought up all on his own, proudly claiming his material “original.” He was a little reserved, a little shy, and likable.
Then he told his first joke. And I was appalled.
He began his second joke, and I choked on my water.
He was really on a roll then, and I turned to my sister and said, “There is no way he is going to go farther than that, right?” But he did, and my sister and I were left with our mouths hanging open, watching the audience gasp and scream in horrific surprise, their eyes bulging from their sockets. The boy’s father was backstage, grinning and clapping.
I thought for sure — for sure — the judges would rip him apart for being so young and so vulgar until I remembered Howard Stern was one of the judges, and that he basically made his living by making people uncomfortable and pushing the envelope WAY too far.
My sister kept saying, “No way. No way,” while Howie Mandel gave the kid a standing ovation.
Even the girls fell for his dirty jokes, calling the kid a “naughty boy” with a wink and a smile and sending him on through to the next round to come up with impossibly worse material for the next show.
I wonder why I’m always shocked by how far we’ve come when it comes to being “shocking,” but I guess I thought the children were — or should be — naïve to the world’s filthy humor. If that kid even knew half of what he was talking about, my heart hurts even more. What’s worse, his mom was in the audience, cheering and clapping and laughing right along.
Our society has become so numb, so accepting of crude humor and vulgarity that we’ve gone from being appalled to providing encouragement. Movies, books and TV shows are trying to out-do one another when it comes to shocking behavior.
Guess what? It’s still OK to be appalled. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable. It’s OK to be the “prudish” one.
And it's not OK to encourage children to turn up the filth for a cheap laugh.
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.