Can The Law Protect Your Town from Reality TV?

We PR professionals live in difficult times. We depend heavily on language to create the desired imagery, messages, and stories that we painstakingly present to the public. When words lose their meanings, we lose much of our power.

On that note, it’s a shame what the phrase “reality television” has done to the term “reality.” For people who love words, this is a travesty. Not only has the meaning of “reality” been diluted by cultural erosion; it’s been completely eviscerated—to the point where it’s used ironically. For real.

But the government is mounting a defense–with the public good in mind. New Jersey Assemblyman Ronald Dancer has introduced legislation that would allow communities to fight back against the invasion of reality shows like “Jersey Shore” that consume public resources while inviting drunken chaos. Though the laws target specific undesirable behaviors and actions, we all can see the bigger public relations picture here: No one wants their hometown forever associated with a bunch of idiots.

PR professionals know that 15 minutes of fame acquired through drunken spectacle and sexual shenanigans rarely translates into a sustainable brand or adds value to people’s lives. Things change and memories fade, but geographic reputations can last for decades. The real victims of reality television are the folks from places like the many charming towns along the Jersey Shore who must forever answer the question “Is it really like that?” That inquiry may seem innocuous, but wait until it comes up in a job interview (and it will).

New York City is a legendary place with multiple reputations and claims to fame. Not even the back-to-back horror of “The Real Housewives of New York City” and “Gallery Girls” can ruin Gotham. Smaller locales, however, are a different kind of animal; they are vulnerable to TV cameras seeking to capitalize on their most ridiculous citizens. Today, thanks to the actions of Mr. Dancer in New Jersey, the public just might have a fighting chance.

Now if we can just a get lawyer to protect Snooki’s kid.