As you watch the credits to Fox's Trading Spouses, you'll see a credit for two supervising story producers. That should send out a message loud and clear that this supposed "reality" show isn't entirely reality. What is it, then, if not reality? Obviously, it's "real" in the sense that the families on the show are real. However, if events are staged and/or manipulated by the story producers, doesn't that introduce an element of non-reality? It's manipulation, with the producers pulling the strings as we watch.
The premise of Trading Spouses is simple: two families will swap mothers for one week, and we, the audience, will get to see the wacky results. And, thanks to those story producers, we know we are going to get some truly wacky moments of that tired but true fish-out-of-water formula.
Is it entertainment or exploitation? I think the show is definitely straddling the grey area in between. The fish-out-of-water scenario allows for shows where people from very different families are put together, and at times put into situations that are demeaning or humiliating.
Take the episode featuring the Joseph family and the Gibbons family. The Joseph family is African-American and lives in Harlem, New York. The Gibbons are caucasian and live in Mendon, Massachusetts. And since we're going to be heading straight into stereotype territory, of course the Gibbons family are wealthy, and the Joseph family is middle class. Are there no wealthy African-American families to feature on this show? Of course not.
Octavia Joseph, the matriarch, heads off to Mendon while wealthy Lynne is en route to Harlem. Ah, now we're going to really get some sparks flying! How will the wealthy white mom deal with living with an African-American family? In Harlem? With other African-American folks? Conversely, how will Octavia handle the spoiled Gibbons family?
Octavia is picked up at the airport by Tom Gibbons, and the two proceed to say nothing at all to each other. Meanwhile, Lynne has met up with Carl Joseph, Sr., the patriarch of the Joseph family.
Octavia finds herself in a huge home with a gaggle of teenage girls who, apparently, have never been disciplined nor said "no" to their entire lives. Of course, this could be one of those stereotypes the story producers wanted to push: spoiled, rich white teenage girls. We only see what the producers present to us, and in this episode the girls do act annoyingly spoiled.