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A Literal 'Wipeout': Modern Media and Its Oppressive Effect on Minorities

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Recently I watched an episode of ABC's Wipeout, a competition reality program in which contestants participate in simultaneously risky and childish obstacle courses that result in falling down, concussions, colliding with mud puddles, spells of dizziness and most other embarrassing things you never want to happen to you in high school. I'm not an avid viewer of the show, but it was on as background noise in my living room, which soon turned into more of a livid buzz to my ears than anything else. This particular installment of the show was themed "Hotties vs. Nerds," in which the "hotties" were unsurprisingly attractive young women, and the "nerds" were even less shockingly young men with scruffy beards and tuxedo T-shirts. I thought all of the individuals were rightfully present to do whatever their hearts desired by being on this show and being themselves, but I found it extremely offensive that a show on a major broadcasting network was perpetuating gender stereotypes, as well as other reprehensible societal conventions.

For starters, the theme of the entire hour-long show placed two generalized genders at the forefront of competition. Though it wasn't really a battle to the death, and it wouldn't determine which group would soon rule the world, it still had an impact on its viewers. It implied, simply, at point-blank, that hotties aren't nerds and nerds aren't hotties, while at the same time, hotties are a certain type of female, and nerds are a certain type of male. I have seen countless television shows that hold this same standard. Most reality shows starring women are about their beauty, their journey to beauty, or their tragic, yet painfully relatable descent from beauty. I am all for female empowerment and high self-esteem awareness, but these shows usually objectify this beauty as a very cookie-cutter, magical shift-shaping form of alignment, which is depicted as the high road to happiness and societal acceptance.

With young audiences and family settings being the main backdrop for reality TV in this day and age, it is offensive to perpetuate gender stereotypes in those ways. New generations of young girls deserve better, young boys deserve to be taught better and everyone older than that deserves a chance at clearer understanding and insight.

Along with the show's underlying motif of gender inequality, it was also saturated in ableism. The first noticeable prejudice against anyone disabled was the mention of panic attacks being "gross" and "a classic nerd problem." The hosts were outwardly repulsed by the fact that someone suffering through a panic attack may become physically sick and throw up. They then poked fun at every other symptom of anxiety disorders to even further the negative commentary. As a sufferer of a panic disorder, these remarks struck a personal chord inside of me, which had me seething. Mental illness is always scrutinized in the public eye as something to be ashamed of, as it is commonly associated with personality, but if media were used to educate, those issues would decrease dramatically.

Other disabilities are also widely made fun of in media and reality television, as well as race, age, class and faith. There are many forms of prejudice, and it is no secret that our so beloved, widely-consumed media is filled with it. However, I'm not here to ignore it. I'm here to combat against it. Doing nothing does not get rid of oppression. I don't want to get rid of reality television, either, just to be clear. I want it to improve. It is so cool and important to have a healthy dose of competition in our lives, and while there are already plenty of sports channels, it would really rock to have a sense of TRUE reality, which is raw and abrasive, but also earnest and comedic. You don't need to make fun of things for funny to exist.

In a perfect world, reality television would ideally include teams competing to spread the most positivity and awareness about important issues in the world, to ultimately end in a cash prize that is donated to a chosen charity or cause. It rattles my mind that we aren't already doing something along those lines in mainstream media, but then again, America doesn't usually like to be told where to keep its money or what to do with its free time. But I'm generalizing there.

It's not as if I am the only one out there who feels this way. I'm not the only one offended by things like this. You can bet about half of the population is. I am only a speck in the colorful mosaic of the American viewing population, and I will not obliviously stand on the sidelines while it turns to a bland gray of misrepresentation. I'm done being embarrassed of the things I see being broadcasted in high-definition normality. I want to see creativity, originality and authenticity. I want to see us all.