How Reality T.V. Can Court Trouble

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post about the Palin family’s homophobia, in particular that of Bristol Palin, as well as her lousy parenting. It now seems that Levi Johnston, Bristol’s ex boyfriend and the father of Tripp, is suing for half or full custody of his son. Reportedly, his decision was influenced by the temper tantrum he saw Tripp throw on Bristol Palin’s reality show, Life’s a Tripp. According to, Levi is “disgusted” by what he saw. He also said that Tripp is on a “downward spiral” and is receiving “no real parenting” and that he “will do whatever it takes to make sure he [Tripp] is raised the right way.” Let’s face it: choosing whether Tripp should be parented by Bristol Palin or Levi Johnston is like choosing between being parented by Joan Crawford and Joe Jackson. However, this story prompted me to write a blog post about how reality television can actually hurt someone in the courtroom. Reality television, even more so than Facebook, gives other people a window into someone’s personal life. It paints a detailed picture of someone and their various traits, good or bad. And in the process, it may make certain things a matter of public record that will later come up in a court case. Unlike regular television or film, it is presented as completely real. If Anthony Hopkins were accused of murdering and cannibalizing somebody, it would be unfair and unreasonable to use the Hannibal Lecter movies as evidence. Yet reality T.V. is a whole different ballgame. If this were a child custody battle involving two ordinary people, it would probably be the mother’s word against the father’s. The father would claim that the child in the care of the mother was throwing temper tantrums, using profanity or even homophobic slurs, and telling relatives, “I hate you.” The mother could then call the father a liar, and it might be difficult for the court to determine who was telling the truth. Not so with Bristol and Levi. Bristol’s reality show may well provide Levi with custody of Tripp on a silver platter. Not only is there footage of Tripp acting very obnoxiously, but Bristol admits on camera that she is doing a terrible job of disciplining him. The episode could not portray Bristol’s parenting in a worse light if Levi’s lawyer scripted it. Now, Levi’s lawyer could ask the court to subpoena the footage to help his client’s case. Bristol would be in no position to claim privacy rights, since the footage has already been shown on T.V., with her consent. This would not be the first time that a reality show arguably hurt somebody in court. Almost exactly five years ago, Hulk Hogan’s son, “Nick Hogan” (real name Nick Bollea), crashed his very expensive, very fast car while intoxicated and speeding in a street race. In addition to destroying the car and causing it to hit a palm tree, the accident injured passenger John Graziano so badly that he is likely to require full-time care for the rest of his life. However, since he had broken at least three laws and been ticketed multiple times prior to the crash, Nick seemed poised for a world of hurt. Unfortunately for the “Hogan family” (again, actually named the Bolleas), at the time of the crash, they had their own reality show. The show, interestingly enough, was called Hogan Knows Best. I never watched the show, because I never watch reality T.V. period, except for animal documentaries. But I heard a lot about how, on the show, Nick had come off looking like less than the model teenager. Apparently, this must have been of some concern to Hulk and his lawyer, because the semi-retired wrestler publicly claimed that, despite what we had been told the entire time that the show had been running, Hogan Knows Best was actually scripted. And maybe it was. But you can say as many times as you want, after the court case starts, that your reality show was scripted. The fact remains, that a reality show is not like normal television, where we see credits with the words “screenplay written by . . . ” It is not even like professional wrestling, which almost everyone knows it is scripted. The very term, “reality T.V.,” implies that the audience is watching with the understanding that what they are seeing is real. I really have nothing against Hulk Hogan, and I actually praised him in an article I wrote a while back for a gay-affirming comment he made. But I use his case and Bristol’s to illustrate the fact that if you sign on to star in a reality T.V. show, you should probably try to avoid ever having to go to court.


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