When it comes to reality TV, I'm usually highly suspicious. Suspicious of the motives behind the creation of the program in general, suspicious of the people appearing in it, suspicious of the message being sent across, and suspicious of the method of delivery of said message.
TV shows aren't just created for the heck of it - I challenge you to find a show somewhere that isn't making money off of advertisers or someone (and don't say PBS - those shows were still created for-profit, regardless of what network they're being aired on). Reality shows, while they may seem pretty crap in many cases, are very, very clever, and draw in the big bucks almost effortlessly, for very little budget by comparison. The producers come up with an idea. They pitch it. They cast. Just like any other show. But this time, they want "real" people involved. What many people don't realize (okay, don't slam me here, I have no sources to quote for this information other than my gut instinct and the dribs and drabs I find in the tabloid news in the checkout line at the supermarket...) is that those "real" people are often wannabe actors, people who wish to claim the spotlight for their own and become a household name, regardless of the mud they get dragged through (The Bachelor, anyone? Jon and Kate? C'mon, I'm sure you've all watched Jersey Shore, at least once...). What many people also don't realize (same disclaimer applies here, btw...) is that the producers create almost everything. They put people together that they know will result in conflict. They craft situations which will create drama. They get people to do things they would never ordinarily do, and then (wait for it...), they edit the crap out of the resulting product, leaving the viewer with something resembling reality about as much as a cat resembles an anteater.
(And don't get me wrong, I'm a reality TV addict, so I'm not actually knocking it, just making a point.)
So, upon hearing that a reality show is focusing in some part at some point on someone with Down syndrome, I'm extra suspicious, ready for the poor them mentality, the problems inherent in their lives, the problems they may cause others. There was that show about the American nanny who would visit families and work with them to correct behavior issues that are tearing the family apart. There was one episode with a boy with Down syndrome. It was done quite well, and I applauded them for it, but again, it was a problem that needed fixing.
Not like Down syndrome comes up very often in reality programming, but still, you get my point...
Farm Kings is a fairly new program on the not-so-new-but-totally-new-to-me network, Great American Country (GAC) that airs new episodes every Thursday night at 9pm ET. If you hadn't guessed already, it's a reality show. It follows the King family of western Pennsylvania, and their life living on and running Freedom Farms. Mom, Lisa, has 10 children, the youngest of which, Ben, has Down syndrome.
And that's it.
Ben has Down syndrome. Ben is a part of the family. Ben is not treated any differently, although there are sometimes different things that need to be done to keep him engaged and active, but these are not the fodder of people seeking high drama. And it's a relief.
The family love each other and work together. They get on each other's nerves from time to time, and don't always do the right things all the time, but their hearts are good, their motives pure. (Oh, and did I mention yet how seriously good looking everyone in this family is???) In one of the episodes I saw, the most dramatic thing to happen was that two of the sons decided to build their mother her own greenhouse as a surprise, at the expense of her barely-used garage and a few flower beds. Again, pure motive, and purely entertaining.
In that same episode, the family decide to have a competition in the community to see how much weight everyone can lose by eating farm-fresh produce every day, and getting into an exercise program. Great way to promote their business, great way to promote fitness and health. Ben was included in this, as keeping him active on a daily basis could be a challenge, as many of us with children with Down syndrome can attest to. It was so obvious that he is a valued and much-loved member of the family. He is not given any special treatment because of his diagnosis. He is present in their everyday lives. He has a fun-loving and warm personality that shines through on-screen.
There's something that's such a turn-off about watching "reality" programming that seems artificially staged and set up for a great big emotional and/or physical mess, but there's something so...right...about following this family as they work with each other, as they work with their community, as they teach you something about what they do and why they do it.
Do I feel that the producers of Farm Kings guide the action in some way? Oh, sure. Of course they do! But nothing is over-the-top, nothing feels wrong, there is no guilt or guilty pleasure in watching. It still feels real, authentic.
And, in this case, I'm very thankful and pretty sure that what you see of this TV family is pretty much what you get.
And that's real.