Sunday, September 11, 2011
The Jerry Springer complex of network television
It all started Thursday afternoon, when I received a strange email from a TV producer wanting me to come on a daytime talk show - this coming Tuesday!! My initial reaction was to ignore it - actually, my initial reaction was I thought it was a prank. But I woke up Friday morning to see Facebook statuses from some friends across the country who had also been contacted and had agreed to go on the show! So I thought, hmm, these are ladies I have known for many years online and we have all hoped for the opportunity to meet someday, if I agreed to go on the show I'd be able to meet them and we'd be dynamite on the show considering our opinions and what we could get across to the public! So I call up the producer and throughout the morning/afternoon I spoke to her on several occasions.
Now, while I cannot go into details for a variety of reasons, lets just say I realized after several conversations that whether she realized it or not she was trying to exploit me for ratings. All during this several friends who had also agreed to go on the show were waiting patiently to hear back from her about travel arrangements to NYC, which she had told them that morning to pack their bags. My last conversations with the producer, after refusing adamantly to agree to what she wanted, ended up with her telling me she needed to discuss things with her team and she would get back to me in an hour. I never heard back from her. My guess is she was trying one last time to get me to change my mind, and if I did she'd scrap the others and only use me. But since I refused it wasn't the story they wanted.
As the evening rolled on I was on the phone and texting back and forth with these several DC friends who were also supposed to be on the show. We all assumed we had just been cut from the show since we never heard anything. Frustrations were running high as the others have family and children to consider, and the fact that if this was still going to happen we were all to be flying to New York on Monday!! And it was Friday night!! I'm a spontaneous person, but this was a big deal!! I needed to know so I could work out plans for the coming week...and of course go buy a new outfit to wear on TV!!!
Flash forward to yesterday (Saturday) morning. One of my friends calls the producer on her cell phone because no one had heard from her after my conversation with her at 4pm...none of them had heard from her since early Friday morning.
Brief response, they taped the show last night (Friday)...when we were all waiting on pins and needles to hear back and to go through with our "pre-interviews" and get our travel arrangements sorted out. No apology, no sorry I meant to get back to you but we were in a crunch. Nothing. After an email to the producer we learn that they changed topics entirely, scraping the donor conception story. Needless to say, the lack of professionalism shown by the producer of this show and the parent network cannot be ignored. And I am fairly confident that if this show were to contact me again in the future for a show I would politely turn them down.
But on to what this post is meant to be about...I would not turn them down purely because they cut our segment and didn't have the common courtesy to notify us - though I am miffed at the lack of consideration towards us and leaving us waiting for nothing. No, I am most enraged by the fact that even though this is what I would consider a legitimate show, that they still stoop to the levels that many less-respected shows often are traditionally known for.
And that is using sensationalist tactics to get ratings at the expense of the individuals involved in the show. Unfortunately this is not the first time something like this has happened, and I'm sure it won't be the last. To Hollywood, to the television industry, we're "freaks of nature", something out of the movies or science fiction. And apparently we must be treated as such. While there have been many fantastic newspaper articles and even some television programs that have discussed donor conception, the majority of them, especially television/movies, seem to put us in the same category as reality stars, elephant man, and conjoined twins. They have learned that America is a society that thrives on being exposed to individuals lives that are completely outside the realm of their own boring existence.
And for good reason. The concept of being conceived in a doctor's office in a sterile clinical setting and having no knowledge of half of your identity is not something that the majority of people can relate to. And with the disgusting irresponsibility of the infertility industry in the past 20+ years, we have become even more of a freak show, with stories of donors fathering hundreds of children, the idea of two siblings unknowingly meeting and entering into romantic relationships with one another, and children having get togethers with dozens, if not hundreds of siblings, entering the media. And while part of me understands and acknowledges that without this media our plight would not be heard and society would not see the damages being done. At the same time, rarely is our story taken for what it is, it's made out to be something that it is not. If anything, the media is not interested in the actual issues. All they care about is how many people are watching their show, reading their paper, listening to their news broadcast.
So where does that leave us? Being exploited by two industries. We have from day one been exploited by the infertility industry, in terms of their multi-billion dollar profits and putting us in a position where we have become mere commodities, mere transactions between two consenting parties who do not have OUR best interests at heart. And today we are now being exploited by the media, time and time again.
They see us as one of two things. Either that happy ending story that everyone cries and thinks that everything is perfect and beautiful. Or the tragedy story that often takes the spin that we are a bunch of whiny brats complaining about life's injustices when we are living our white middle class suburban lives. In the first, and more common, example, they only show the good things. The reunion of half siblings, the former donor and his/her child meeting for the first time. What is not shown is the emotional implications associated with both of these events, that often carry on for years. These stories also give the false illusion that anyone who wants to find a sibling or their biological parent can do so. Which in reality is so far from the truth.
But what about those individuals who have their private lives documented? The two siblings who have their reunion filmed for the entire world? I hate to break it to you but the media doesn't really care about reuniting lost siblings. All they care about it the chick-flick appeals of the story for the audience. The reunion is likely terribly staged, and god-forbid nobody cries. They'll make you cry, just for ratings!! And you better look alike too, otherwise it's not as surreal and awe-inspiring that these two individuals have lived their entire lives unbeknownst to each others existence.
The complex and emotional journeys of these reunions are never documented. Perhaps it would show that these experiences are not just the perfect fairytale ending. That there is pain and anger and confusion. And that it's no an instantaneous happy life from that point on. And that sometimes these things don't always end like we hope.
The good news is there has been some good opportunities for the media to portray our stories fairly and accurately to a broad audience, and I thank those journalists, producers, and organizations for taking the time and energy to produce something worthwhile that truly captivates the complexities at stake with consideration and respect for those of us living through this seemingly unimaginable predicament. I hope that in the coming months and years that there will be more of these stories that come to light and less of the superficial and exploitative outlets that often are produced.