The Phenomenon of Reality TV
Reality TV has made impressive strides in the last decade. Whether the strides have been forward or backward is up to the individual. From leaving a group of people stranded on an island to fight for survival, to choosing seven strangers to live together in a house, or a large group of women pulling out their best tricks to win the man of their dreams in front of millions, the purpose of reality television has definitely shifted with time. So let’s take a look at where we are in 2014.
In the beginning
Reality TV is in its prime now, but it didn’t begin with such a bang. Although many people may think that shows like “Survivor” or “The Real World” spearheaded the current phenomenon in the late 90’s, it actually began much earlier than that. Curiousity.com claims that the first reality television show was called “An American Family.” Much like “Keeping Up With The Kardashians,” it chronicled a family for seven months through their intense ups and downs.
Before this, there was nothing more than sitcoms and game shows for family enjoyment. And while it may have been a writer’s strike that caused the onslaught of unscripted television, the fact is it’s much easier to simply follow people with a camera then it is to give them lines to memorize. What began as a slow moving trend, is now dominating televisions worldwide.
Where Are We Now
Decades later, reality TV has changed in ways that the originators probably never expected. While “Master Chef” and “Project Runway” are positive shows that result in the success of a few lucky individuals, there are some shows that cross the line of decency.
As viewers watch weekly episodes of their favorite unscripted casts, they never know what to expect. And because reality TV focuses on random occurrences in people’s lives (with the help of some producer magic) there is no theme or expectation for what could happen.
Real World sparked a plethora of television shows in which strangers were placed in a house together at a specific location without television or social media. Eventually, Jersey Shore made its debut, chronicling the lives of a group of young Italians living on the Jersey Shore and controversy immediately followed as people saw the show as racist and stereotypical, and claimed it showed Italians in a negative light. With constant partying, fights, and intense love quarrels, who could blame them?
There are also shows that viewers watch to escape the dull realities of their own life. Shows like “Rich Kids of Beverly Hills” follow some of America’s most privileged millennials. As we watch their day to day activity, and compare it to our drab existence, it makes us want to live the life of the elite. But E! Online says “Every now and then, a TV show comes along that captures the voice of a generation. #RichKids of Beverly Hills is not that show.”
The Reality of Reality TV
Contrary to its title, reality TV does not showcase true reality. Some might even say it does the opposite by displaying a superficial world that doesn’t exist. The more viewers indulge in false realities, the more we lose focus with what is really going on in our lives.
Kim and Kanye may seem like the perfect couple, but how much do we really know about them? An hour once a week is not an accurate depiction of a person’s real life 24/7.
Reality TV sets unrealistic standards for real life. The more we admire and romanticize the people from Love and Hip Hop or Real Housewives of New Jersey, the more power these shows gain over society and mass media.
Freelance writer. ECU Alum. NYC. Unprecedented.