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Will You Watch Poor Shaming As Entertainment?

Sam Seder takes a look at America’s delusional relationship to poverty.

The Majority Report's Sam Seder takes a look at America’s culture of poor shaming in the form of the new reality show from CBS, The Briefcase. The basis of the show for anyone who hasn't already heard about it is they give two families a briefcase with $100K and ask each of them if they're willing to share all or part of the money with the other family that's in as much financial distress as they are.

As Sam explained in the segment above, it's modern equivalent of throwing them into the pit to do battle with each other like the Romans did with the gladiators to keep the crowd entertained.

Leonard Pitts Jr. shares Seder's view of the series and took it apart here as well: ‘The Briefcase’ is tragedy, not entertainment:

Recently, I watched the first episode of “The Briefcase,” CBS’ new reality show. I found myself vaguely ashamed for doing so. I kept reminding myself that I had to watch it in order to write about it.

“Myself” wasn’t buying it. “Myself” wanted a shower. [...]

In that sense, you could argue there is nothing new, nor even particularly noteworthy, about “The Briefcase,” a summer series that premiered last week. Its premise is that a struggling family is given a briefcase full of cash — $101,000 — with the stipulation that they may choose to keep all of the money, keep some and give the rest to a second down-on-its luck family or keep none of it and give the entire amount to that other family.

It is a rigged morality tale, a financially strapped couple wrestling with questions of self-preservation versus altruism. In that situation, should you be selfish or selfless? At one point, each couple is taken to tour the other couple’s home while those people are away. They rifle through the other family’s overdue bills, inspect their busted appliances. The twist is that unbeknownst to each couple, the other has received an identical briefcase, has taken the same tour, and is wrestling with the same question: What is the moral thing to do?


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Actually, if anyone really cared about these families’ problems, the moral course would be obvious. Let CBS (estimated value, according to Forbes, about $30 billion) give each struggling family what it needs to get back on its feet. Problem is, the moral course would not be the most entertaining course, would deprive the rest of us of watching these men and women argue, weep, shoot death glares at one another, confess intimate fears to the camera and, yes, vomit in emotional distress, as they try to make this inherently unfair decision.

Look, it is not exactly news that “reality television” is a cesspool. For those who enjoy it, that’s apparently part of the attraction.

But “The Briefcase” plumbs new depths. CBS has made a calculated bet here that you and I would not mind seeing real-life poverty as mass entertainment. So far, they’re right. According to Variety, “The Briefcase” was the most watched Wednesday night series on television last week. Almost 7 million of us tuned in to find diversion in the exploitation of financially and emotionally vulnerable people. [...]

There is something blinkered about the morality that makes such a thing not simply possible, but popular. There are 45 million Americans submerged below the poverty line. That’s 1 in every 7 of us, many living one medical diagnosis, one broken transmission, one missed paycheck, from disaster. Friends, that is tragedy, not entertainment.

Pity any nation that can no longer tell the difference.

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