Reality television

September 16, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Jasen Obermeyer

Reality television seems to be the dominant form in the industry for the last two decades.

It can be traced to the 1970s, with the PBS documentary An American Family, seen as the first reality show on television, a precursor to what would come. Following the lives of the Loud Family, it originally dealt with their daily lives until the parents’ divorce and the coming out of one of their sons.

You can also see the O.J. Simpson murder case and subsequent trial as a watershed moment in reality television. Networks and ordinary people lived their lives and schedule around the airing of the case.

In the past two decades we’ve had The Osbournes, Jersey Shore, The Bachelor/Bachelorette, Big Brother; a plethora of genres and shows has emerged in reality television.

Even sitcoms and scripted shows have embraced some aspects of reality television, with the mockumentary genre seen in shows like The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Modern Family.

The most well-known reality show is Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Finally ending this past summer, the “show” helped spur the “famous for being famous” and “15 minutes of fame” concepts.

But why are reality shows so popular?

It’s obvious they are much cheaper to create. You don’t need to hire trained, professional actors. Regular people don’t get paid as much. You save more with a smaller production crew, and don’t have to create a set.

But I firmly believe reality television brings more harm than good.

A major problem is they don’t accurately reflect reality. There is an inherent lack of trust between the viewers and the show because you don’t know 100 percent if it is or isn’t scripted or artificial. Misleading editing, staging, coaching, all play a part in falsely portraying what is claimed to be real – everyday life. Unlike unscripted shows that fully acknowledge everything is fictional, trust is cemented completely because you know what you’re watching isn’t truly reality.

Shows on outdoor survival or anything with drama can be forcefully created for no reason but to keep viewers watching. If someone appears to be in trouble, they aren’t. There’s a cameraman there, or a few production crewmen, and if something does happen to that individual, the show is done, and the network could be in big trouble.

Perhaps there is “good” reality television, and bad, trashy ones.

I’ve dabbled in watching reality television a bit, and one show I did watch for a certain period was Pawn Stars. I loved the items brought in, the stories behind them, the historical aspect. I didn’t care for the personal interactions of the family who operates the pawn shop. Eventually though I got bored of it. Between the interactions and understanding the people filmed, when the music sets in, I instantly knew what was going to happen. The predictability of it led to being unexciting and I stopped watching.

The one reality show I truly have watched religiously is Survivor. I’d argue that it toes the line between being reality and a game show. But when the producers forcefully create moments and make it predictable, then it ruins the experience for me. It still allows for raw intense moments, but the show has recently seen some ugly, controversial ones amongst its contestants, and several times I’ve questioned whether I want to continue watching this show, my enthusiasm to see it live wanning, going days or weeks before seeing a new episode. 

Reality shows don’t provide much substance or rewatch value. Once you know what happens, why bother seeing it again? It’s a one and done thing for just that moment. Many reality shows don’t last long and thus are forgotten.

The biggest problem with reality television is it seems based on humiliating and exploiting the participants. On American Idol, how many contestants were good singers, and how many were brought to get a quick laugh and a Simon Cowell insult?

You hear of how it’s had a huge effect on the participants’ lives, their privacy invaded, turning to a life of drugs or alcoholism to cope with it. It creates a picture of them they’re unable to escape or change. All for our benefit. Is it worth those brief seconds or minutes?

Do you really enjoy the fighting, screaming, all the ugliness and stupidity reality television glamorizes? What entertainment does one achieve?

Ultimately, reality television shows us the ugly side of society. It’s the laziest form of entertainment that lacks all creativity. We all have drama, stress, and negativity in our lives; why would you want to watch and experience it more?

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