For a network that’s literally called “The Learning Channel”, TLC seems far more interested in exploitative programs than it is in educational ones. The type of shows the network produces has led to more than a few bits of controversy over the years, and that’s probably exactly what the Discovery-owned network wants. After all, most reality television programs are ones where conflict and discord are at their very core, so real-life drama outside the series really manifests itself as “no publicity is bad publicity.” However, where many other networks are moving away from contentious content, TLC continues to embrace it, leading to programs that can be admittedly entertaining to watch, but ultimately enforce harmful and negative stereotypes against numerous groups of people, and exploits many of its subjects for ratings profit.
Five of TLC’s most popular shows encapsulate this ideology and are ultimately complicit in problematic and exploitative content. We should mention before going any further that we’re not under any circumstances saying that anyone who watches and enjoys these shows is in any way a bad person. As we said, these shows are undeniably entertaining, and millions of people agree that they are. That being said, it is still valid to discuss the harmful characteristics of these various programs and why TLC maybe should find some more productive content to make instead.
‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ Couldn’t Care Less About Its Child Stars
We’re just gonna come out and say it — beauty pageants are weird. They’re uncomfortable, stressful, degrading, demeaning, and most importantly, enforce unrealistic and unfair beauty standards in sometimes extremely young women. So the fact that Toddlers & Tiaras somehow got seven seasons and 120 episodes is fairly upsetting. Now, parents and adults signing their rights to a reality show is one thing. At the end of the day they are adults and have free will to make their own informed decisions, so they are well within their rights to show their lives to potentially millions of people.
Things get tricky when children get involved in these shows. There’s nothing illegal about putting adolescents in a reality television show, but they also rarely have the ability to give informed consent or permission to put their likeness on TV. Some children might find the idea of being the star of a show exciting but also don’t have the foresight of how it may affect their future. There’s no telling how these kids will react to their lives being broadcast and potentially embarrassing moments being trapped on the internet forever. It’s highly doubtful that the one child who was embarrassed during an interview (only for the camera to then chase her around like it was in an Evil Dead film) will enjoy having that moment remain online forever.
‘Hoarding: Buried Alive’ Comes With All the Shock But None of the Value
Hoarding is a very real and very debilitating issue in the modern world. The compulsive condition of keeping every article of trash, food, clothing, etc., is something that affects people of every race, gender, social class, and more. On paper, the concept behind Hoarding: Buried Alive sounds like promising feel-good entertainment, with experts coming in to help people deal with massive and overwhelming cases of hoarding.
Unfortunately, Hoarding: Buried Alive takes a very surface-level approach to a complex and nuanced issue. In every episode, the crew just comes in to get the trash and infestations out of a unit, but rarely ever looks at the psychological reasoning for why the hoarding took place to begin with. Getting a completely clean living environment sounds all well and good, but it’s often a dramatic change for the people that live in those spaces. It would have been far more constructive if the show made more of an effort in examining why hoarding is taking place in these environments rather than just cleaning up homes.
‘Sister Wives’ Continues to Depict a Problematic Polyamorous Relationship
Sister Wives is far from a stellar depiction of a polyamorous relationship. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with that type of relationship, as many people are more than happy having multiple romantic partners. The issue is the Brown family specifically, with several allegations over the years that the wives of Kody Brown are less-than-happy with their living situation. These allegations seemingly rang true when one of the wives, Meri Brown, became the subject of a catfishing scandal.
Despite years of controversy, the show still has an avid viewer base and is still getting new seasons to this very day.
‘My 600-lb Life’ Trivializes Obesity
One of the leading epidemics in the United States is obesity, with millions of Americans contracting many life-altering medical conditions because of it. My 600-lb Life is certainly not the first reality television program to tackle obesity in America and it more than likely won’t be the last, but the idea that a single season of television can solve a lifetime of morbid obesity is a woefully outdated concept. It’s a nuanced issue that can take years to address, and rushing that process isn’t just unrealistic, it’s even dangerous.
It would be somewhat permissible if My 600-lb Life had pure intentions, but it doesn’t. We repeatedly see the show’s subjects in situations that could easily be avoided or aided by the camera crew, but instead they just sit back and film the encounters. Some might argue this is just standard reality filmmaking, and maybe it is, but it also comes across as just pure indecency against people who are trying to live healthier lives.
’90 Day Fiancé’ Gives a Platform to Reprehensible People
TLC’s most popular show is by far 90 Day Fiancé, and the dating show actually does have the highest success rate of any dating/relationship series. Some individuals dispute that statistic, as when the show first premiered, many questioned if the show was even legal because of its premise. The series gets its name by pairing one U.S. citizen with an out-of-country companion, and they have until their partner’s 90-day visa expires to get married. That sounds like it would be manipulating the legal process of becoming a U.S. citizen, but the ongoing series is clearly going strong.
The many subjects of 90 Day Fiancé have become characters of themselves, with some even getting their own spin-offs and specials. There are admittedly some relationships that seem harmless and healthy, but others clearly are inhabited by people who want their 15 seconds of fame, regardless of how their romantic partner feels about them. The most infamous case of this is Edward “Big Ed” Allen Brown, whose infamously toxic attitude on the series has led to abundant meme content.
‘Dr. Pimple Popper’ is a Great Example of a Productive Educational Series
Much of TLC’s concept is an endless sea of uncomfortable and problematic content, but not everything the channel has to offer is a bomb. That’s the case for Dr. Pimple Popper, where dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee assists individuals with severe yet usually benign growths on their bodies. The graphic nature of the show’s surgeries makes the series not for everyone, but what sets Dr. Pimple Popper apart from your average TLC exploitation fest is how the show and Dr. Lee treat the patients. It never feels like they’re the punchline of a joke, and their living situations are treated with respect and dignity. Plus, Lee goes into educational detail to explain the process of the procedures, so you’re also learning as you watch the action.
Even if Lee is playing a character and this is all a disingenuous facade, it’s impossible to deny that her work has fundamentally helped and improved the lives of many people with unique medical conditions. Uplifting and informative content like this is exactly the type of content TLC should be looking to expand in.