The “reality” of so-called reality shows has long been a topic of hot debate — and it’s pretty clear that at least some altercations and dramatic encounters are done (at least in part) for the cameras. MTV is host to two of the most popular “reality TV” series on the air: Jersey Shore and Teen Mom. But for one teen mom, twenty year-old Amber Portwood, the lines between what is real and what is staged for the camera have become much more important than just how the fans will react — this time, she will have Teen Mom Amber Portwoodto take it to court.

Portwood was charged with three felony and one misdemeanor charges for domestic violence and neglect, stemming from a physical and verbal assault on the father of her child, Gary — all of which was caught on camera and aired on MTV to the delight of millions of drama-loving fans. Most domestic squabbles are private, but for this teen mom, her legal troubles began when she was filmed “repeatedly punching and hitting ex-fiance Gary Shirley in front of their daughter, Leah.” Today Show News.

The fact that Portwood was caught on camera (much like MTV’s other star, Snooki, who was arrested for public intoxication for the (inexplicably) first time on the show in a recent episode), isn’t the only issue. More importantly, she was caught on camera because she is an actor, doing her job. So, just how much acting, and how much reality, is present, and what is the best way to tell? Should video footage of a person in their “reality show world” be admissible against them as evidence of actual conduct? Should Chuck Norris be spending the rest of his life in jail for his countless assaults against twelve men at a time? Here is where the “reality TV” world blurs with actual reality — how much is for the cameras, just as any other movie or TV show, and is what arguably little “reality” that’s there enough to be used to charge someone in their “real” lives?

For Amber, the limitations of using these on air clips will not be resolved, since after the incedent she admitted to police that the violence was “not staged for TV” but were in fact her own personal actions. But aside from such admissions, it is possible that being “under the influence of MTV” could present a new challenge to the issue of intent, just like a defendant under the influence of drugs or alcohol; or even a new defense that they were “just acting.”

Susan Reilly

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