Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What Would You Do?

ABC’s new show, What Would You Do? asks their subjects just that: the concept is pretty simple, the producers create scenarios that ask the Everyday Joe to either stand up for those who can’t help themselves or stand back and allow a clearly unjust action take place. At it’s root, the show is a revamp of Candid Camera where the humor is stripped away in lieu of taking a closer look at the social relationships that exist beneath. Much like the original, this series examines how a contrived situation can affect the actions of an individual; in addition, they insert a psychologist’s expert analysis to show why or why not an individual’s reactions may be valid. This series is part of a recent string in ABC’s primetime line up of the more serious docudrama variety. The series really tries to tease out who in the general public is good-hearted and altruistic or more concerned with their own appearance or safety, whichever the situation may threaten.
The latest episode featured a set-up involving a blind actress who appears to be buying a cake from a small bakery. As she hands the man behind the counter a fifty dollar bill for her sixteen dollar cake, she makes a point to ask the cashier to tell her what each bill is so that she can fold each one uniquely to be able to know what each bill in her wallet is. The man, in return, gives her six singles and tells her that it is the thirty four dollar change that she deserved; moreso, he dishes out some pretty rude remarks calling her “Helen Keller” and asking her if she has a helper who takes her around. The host of the show asks the audience to think what they would do to step in and help the patron being cheated. Repeatedly, for the young blind woman being wronged in the pastry store, the group of people in line behind her would stand up either demonstrating by boycott or demanding to right the wrong by calling him out to a manager. One man even speaks up about the rude behavior of the pastry worker before he even has a chance to cheat the young lady. To step beyond this singular episode, the producers re-enact the experiment with a young man for a second turn: given the slight adjustment, it was interesting to see that while people still often stood up for the blind victim, more often than not the cashier had to act more outrageously and for a longer while before people would stand up for the blind man in most cases someone would eventually take a stand. Each time, the fight against the rude cashier was instigated by one bold customer who was then backed up by fellow patrons.
At this point in the episode, the frame shifts to an in-studio interview with a psychologist who gives insight into the reactions of the people before they are aware of the set-up. This medical overtone to the show sort of dictates how the audience should interpret the action based on the ‘reliability’ of the source. In my opinion, the show does not seem written for success in our time: though people do like to both revel in the beauty of human kindness and act shocked at the sight of outright unjustness thinking that they would of course be the person to stand up and do the ‘right’ thing. The lack of appeal of the show is sadly obvious in that in only 6 weeks of airing they have not nailed down a solid schedule having aired only 3 times. Unfortunately, people would rather watch shows like Caught on Camera where the subjects are really victims being paraded around as bad examples of humanity and thus, the educational and enlightening motives of the show are not met with the intended reception and in my opinion don’t allow the audience to decide for themselves what the right course of action is.

Kelly Hill

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