Privacy is a shaky concept today. Culture critics and politicians will argue until they’re blue in the face about the current state of privacy, but politics isn’t the only front where the idea of personal privacy is coming into question.
The other front, surprisingly, is MTV, the cable channel that is famous for introducing Snooki to the world and giving teen moms their 15 minutes of fame. “MTV Suspect,” the network’s latest show, says a lot about privacy in this social-media, smartphone driven world — but maybe not in the way it intended to.
The show, hosted by Nev Schulman of “Catfish” and artist/writer iO Tillet Wright, intends to be a search for the truth. A friend or loved one will write into the show and then work with the hosts to follow and investigate someone they “suspect” of hiding a secret.
The first episode included a person forced to admit he’d starred in an adult movie, and another forced a transgender person to come out to a friend. The “investigations” into personal behavior are cringe-inducing, to say the least.
The hosts and “truth seeker” break down the suspect’s “strange” behavior on and off social media, and they stalk friends and question them. Most of the friends and acquaintances are rightly stiff and awkward when told a television show is investigating the dirty laundry of someone they know.
David Metzler, executive producer of the series, was questioned about the privacy aspect of his show. He told Observer.com, “We do really try to tread lightly on people’s privacy issues. We take that very seriously. We also try to be polite in that we understand that there’s a fine line between airing out someone’s dirty laundry and being worried about that person. We know that there is great responsibility in getting to the truth but doing it in a compassionate, thoughtful way.”
Metzler’s political answer doesn’t quite describe what happens on the show. The suspect being investigated is confronted and forced to admit things they obviously with to keep private — or reveal at a time of their choosing — on television for all the world to hear and see.
As for treading lightly, the series breaks down the suspect’s behavior, making guesses as to whether they are hiding an illness or other secrets. It’s bizarre and uncomfortable to watch Schulman and Wright pry personal information from friends and family to exploit for the cameras. In the first episode, after one of the suspects is forced to admit to starring in an adult video, something he was trying very hard to avoid, he’s even asked where the videos can be found. That is not treading lightly.
The very concept of “MTV Suspect” speaks to a larger privacy issue with millennials, and it’s got nothing to do with Apple and the FBI, or even the NSA. The issue has to do with a world where the pressure of technology is always around. People are expected to measure their lives and share everything through various social media platforms today. There’s also the pressure of constantly being connected, to being on.
The show reveals an entitlement felt today among a younger generation. It’s an entitlement to the private information of others. Some things are kept private because that’s what the person in question wishes to do at the time. However, in today’s world, that is simply not OK with MTV and Nev Schulman’s cameras.
One person even wrote on the “MTV Suspect” Facebook page: “One person on my friend’s list should be scared!” Another, seeing the awkward invasion of privacy that makes up the core of the show, posted: “1984 is here and it dwells in your show,” referring to George Orwell’s dystopian prediction of a future with no privacy or personal freedom.
The makers of the series, however, still feel their show serves an important purpose. Metzler says, “Our biggest hope is that the issues we’re talking about will spark conversations between people of different opinions which we think is healthy. I mean, we know it’s a TV show, but if it can help people communicate, that’s a really, really good thing.”
While that’s a noble motivation, the series essentially feels like a 2016 version of “The Jerry Springer Show.” Instead of people offering up their own dirty laundry for cameras, MTV and friends grab cameras and force the dirty laundry out of unsuspecting victims.