Academic purists are up in arms over the decision of the test question generators at the SAT to include an essay on reality television. Instead of analyzing the literary importance of Jane Eyre or the impact of currency flucuations on the international finanancial system, students were asked to comment on the reality of reality television and of course whether Jersey Shore’s Snooki is really real.
A close inspection of the actual question shows that the people at the SAT were seeking a thoughtful and critical analysis of a staple of our popular culture and were not looking for some mindless cheerleading commentary about why Jersey Shore is great fun. In fact the question sought to determine whether the shows were indeed ” authentic” and whether the producers were indeed seeking to ” mislead” the viewers.
To include a question about American popular culture is a new departure for the SAT, but one that could be expected during this era of instant celebrity status and the dumbing down of our society.
But like it or not, reality television is part of our culture and the students taking the SAT apparently were overjoyed that they could write informatively and critically about something they know. The purists would hope that students today are focused on the classics and the intricies of the global economy, but it is impossible to stop the engine of popular culture. It will be interesting to see how the student did on this essay, but I am betting that they crafted some pretty solid commentaries and critiques.
As an educator, Iam not despondent over the decision of the SAT organization to include the reality television genre as an essay question. Students are savvy enough to know that a good deal of these shows are, like wrestling, just plain fake. But after studying Jane Eyre or the global financial system, sitting down and watching Snooki give the appearance of self-destruction is strangely relaxing and sadly entertaining.
Certainly it would be better if young minds spent their television time watching PBS or the History Channel or even the endless cooking shows. But these are the times we live in where culture is low not high and the lives of troubled people get instant attention.