‘The Briefcase’ Takes Poverty Porn to ‘Hunger Games’ Level

The Briefcase

The Briefcase on CBS is a new game show that many people feel takes what they term as “poverty porn” to the level of The Hunger Games, as depicted in the trilogy of best-selling books and the movie franchise based on them. The emotions of two families experiencing what CBS states are “financial setbacks,” are manipulated, as they are presented with the difficult choice of keeping $101,000 or giving it up to help another family in financial need. The Briefcase debuted on CBS on Wednesday, May 27, at 8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT.

T.V. series that exploit the desperate situations that people in financial difficulties are experiencing, like The Briefcase and, to a somewhat lesser extent, series like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, are often accused of promoting a type of “poverty porn.” At least, in the case of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, one family definitely gets helped, and they do not have to make a decision about giving up that opportunity to some other family.

On The Briefcase, the two families in the premiere episode this past Wednesday were the Bronson Family from Manchester, N.H. and the Bergin Family from Matthews, N.C. They, and all of the other families taking part in The Briefcase, are supposedly middle class families, though the so-called “financial setbacks” they are experiencing seem to be more than just mere setbacks, potentially being financial disasters. They are not told beforehand that they are taking part in a game show. The families are told they are being filmed for a documentary.

The Bergins are a family of five from North Carolina. Kim and Drew Bergin are the parents of three daughters. Drew owns an ice cream truck business, but it is failing, so the family is forced to rely on $15.50 an hour that Kim earns at her job. Unless Drew’s business experiences an extreme turn-around for the better, the financial problems the Bergins are undergoing are much more than just a “setback.”

The Bronson Family of New Hampshire is in no better financial straits. Dave, the father of the family, is an Iraq war veteran who has lost his leg in a combat situation there. The family’s mom, Cara, is a nurse who works the night shift, and she is pregnant and they are expecting their second child.

If CBS just gave both of the families the money, and possibly offered them the consultation services of a financial adviser to hopefully prevent them from experiencing the same type of financial setback in the future, probably few people would have a complaint, even though their financial difficulties would still be, in effect, exploited by CBS. But instead, the families are presented with an either/or scenario in which they can look to the viewers of America like they are being greedy and selfish by accepting the money, or appear to be kind and generous by giving it up. However, if they give up the money, they will still be in the same dire financial straits they had been in before appearing on The Briefcase.

The initial $1,000 that the families receive, they are told, must be spent entirely on themselves. They are given a small taste of what it might be like if they decide to accept the rest of the money, $100,000. After that, they have 72 hours to make their decision about keeping the money, giving up a part of it, or giving it all up to the other family. During that 72 hours, the families will be given details about the other family that could be benefited by the money and they will have the opportunity to visit the home of the other family while they are away to see how they live.

The Briefcase will likely tug on the emotional heartstrings of whoever views it, and that is perhaps what execs at CBS are counting on. However, If potential viewers realize that CBS could easily help out both of the families in each episode and that the families that are presented with the difficult choice of accepting the briefcase full of money or giving it up are being exploited, ratings for the series might drop and it might get cancelled.

Of course, CBS did not need to come up with a game show that would potentially result in lifting up a family from the brink of financial disaster to one with the chance of becoming more financially stable and secure. That the network is allowing any family, especially one experiencing financial problems, the chance to get $101,000 is commendable. Still, if The Briefcase becomes successful, CBS will benefit far more than any of the families that get the briefcase full of money, and whether the series becomes successful or not, the families who take part in it are being exploited.

The families on The Briefcase are being exploited by an extremely wealthy T.V. network, and are basically asked to smile through their tears for the entertainment of the viewers of America. The comparison to The Hunger Games books and movies only relates to the financial conditions that the families in the series are experiencing, but just as in The Hunger Games, individuals — families in the case of The Briefcase — are forced into making some very difficult decisions.

One of the taglines for The Briefcase is that it “will make you question what matters most.” That is probably quite true, but it should also make viewers ponder about what matters most to networks like CBS. While The Briefcase is not like The Hunger Games in many ways, it does take what some people are calling “poverty porn” to Hunger Games-like levels.

Opinion By Douglas Cobb

Sources:
RawStory: The Hunger Games: New CBS reality show exploits
poor families by making them grovel for $101,000
Salon: America’s never-ending war on poor people: Why
“The Briefcase” is just the latest assault
Broadway World: Scoop: THE BRIEFCASE on CBS – Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Washington Post: ‘The Briefcase’ tests the generosity
of financially struggling families
Photos Used Courtesy of CBS

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