'Amazing Race': Secretly educational TV
I do not watch reality TV.
I do not watch reality TV because I know the people on those shows know they are on camera all of the time. There is no "reality" when you know you are in front of a camera. (From what little I know of shows like "Jersey Shore," I'm really hoping that is an explanation for their behavior. Please tell me they are play-acting.)
My wife, Janice, enjoys some reality shows, and one of her favorites is "The Amazing Race." If I were to watch a reality TV show, this is the one I would watch. It's the one show I would want to participate in, if only because the people involved get to go to places around the country and around the world that I would love to visit.
For awhile, our kids watched "The Amazing Race" with Janice, and I encouraged the practice. I enjoy when the kids do things together, and with their Mom, but I also privately enjoyed seeing them watch that show because it is SECRETLY EDUCATIONAL!
As a parent, I have concentrated part of my efforts on SECRETLY EDUCATING my children. I figured anything that would stick would be beneficial. I was insidious in my attempts to make everything a learning experience. I was probably a huge pain in the butt to our four kids because of that.
My children are all teenagers now, and they know when I am trying to throw them an educational bone. I still try to sneak some bit of significant trivia into conversations, or point out newspaper or web stories I think they should see, but they know I am doing it. I worry that this knowledge blunts the effect of the lesson I am trying to SECRETLY teach them.
But I have managed to get them all to appreciate the "National Treasure" movies starring Nicolas Cage. I loved the first two, and really, really want them to come up with a decent script for No. 3. Part of my pleasure with that series is that my kids enjoy them so much, and they are, too, SECRETLY EDUCATIONAL!
When the children were younger, I tried to interest them in reading the book series "The Magic Tree House." It had all the key ingredients my kids should have enjoyed -- time travel, magic books and magicians, and children who were allowed to run out of the house whenever they needed to go on adventures, when my kids weren't allowed to go across the street for a play date without supervision.
But "The Magic Tree House'' was also SECRETLY EDUCATIONAL! All of those time travel trips took the characters to locations around the globe at significant historical times. I specifically remember the one about the San Francisco earthquake. I figured the kids would benefit from knowing that part of the story was based on historical fact.
Which brings us back to "The Amazing Race." Our children get into the competitive nature of "The Amazing Race," picking out their favorite teams. But while watching the competition, they are SECRETLY learning about places like Cambodia and Madagascar and Trenton. I'm lucky that I have children who are sponges for information. "The Amazing Race'' includes key historical and geographical facts in their competitive hunts that the kids pick up because they need to know as they psychically help their favorite team win. If they retain that stuff for further use, who am I to complain?
On their own, the kids found "Pawn Stars," a reality show based out of a pawn shop in Las Vegas. Many of the items that are brought in to the shop are antiques, and many of them have some historical significance. In this case, the show is not-so-SECRETLY EDUCATIONAL, since the kids pretty much know they are learning things. What's nice is that they don't seem to mind.
Haley, almost 18 now and our oldest, watches "Project Runway" and "Next Top Model," and I guess that's OK since she is going to college to get a degree in fashion. She tries to make me watch them with her on occasion, but I remind her that she thinks I have little or no fashion sense, and she realizes the nuances of the show would be lost on me. (Yes, I am laughing at the notion that those shows have any "nuance" to them.)
Lindsey's reality TV choices are befitting a 15-year-old girl, I guess. "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," however, can only be considered "reality TV" in the most ridiculous sense.
Dan, Lindsey's twin brother, watches "Real World," and again, I find the title of the show painfully absurd. I worry that Dan might actually assume the real world is well represented in that show. As a parent, I fear the day he faces the painful realization that his assumption was wrong.
When that day comes, however, Dan will find out that it is real life, not "reality TV," that is SECRETLY EDUCATIONAL!
• Kent McDill is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Janice, have four children, Haley, Dan, Lindsey and Kyle.