If you know nothing else about Norway, today you learned Norway kicks ass at reality TV. Unlike in North America where our reality TV shows award people money for answering mundane questions or hook you up with fake relationships for the duration of filming, Norway goes balls to the wall with disgrace and awkward, uncomfortable truth. They sent fashion bloggers to work in a Cambodian sweatshop.
The idea of privileged teenaged fashionistas having to go to the terrible, dark, pit from whence their favorite clothes come seems almost too good. Surely the show would pretty things up, right? Apparently not. Or at least not in any appreciable way, which is to say they didn’t have access to the really bad sweatshops, but they still had to work in a sweatshop. One of the legal ones, so you can just imagine what else is out there.
As you’ll no doubt be not surprised to learn, these teenage, Nordic white fashion bloggers ended up crying a lot over the course of the show, from experiencing the squalid conditions in which their coworkers live every single day, to getting to experience a typical work day in the shop itself where no one provides toilet paper, there’s a single fan for air circulation and the chairs are somehow less comfortable than standing.
At this particular sweatshop, $3 a day is salary and that’s pretty much just as low in Cambodia as it is here. Are there worse sweatshops in the world? No doubt. But remember, this is the best one they could find. This is the one that thought “yeah, we’re good enough to be on TV.” The one that makes Western people cry admits to paying employees $3 a day.
Was it just the crappy work conditions and pay that set our heroes to tears? Surprisingly, it was a dose of humanity. They discovered over the course of the show that the people who work in the sweatshop don’t actually like it. People making $3 a day are not happy. They can’t afford decent homes or food and it’s not just a cultural difference, it’s not the way things are over there, it’s not “all they know.” It’s just good, old fashioned exploitation and abuse.
North American reality shows need to take a page from this show and start giving audiences programming with some kick to it. Do you need to see TLC parade another hillbilly family circus in front of the screen? Wouldn’t it be better to make hipsters see the condition all their Apple products are made in? Or send self-described foodies to work in a slaughterhouse? Shouldn’t all reality shows force the people on them to experience awful realities? That seems like a great idea.
Until the day happens when we actually make people see real reality instead of producers showing us contrived reality, reality TV will most likely continue to be vaguely awful and not worth watching. So basically, TLC. Just a whole network of terrible, soulless abominations.