It’s Sunday night and what else is there to do than turn on the TV? A little more than two million people every Sunday choose to watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Viewers get to see Kim cry while Kourtney and Scott fight over the same exact thing every week. On another channel, 1.8 million viewers are watching the Real Housewives, despite the fact almost all of the women are no longer wives or do anything “housewife” related. Is it possible that these shows actually affect us?
These so-called “reality” shows are erupting all over pop culture, but should they? Could something so bland, and innocuous as reality TV actually do us harm? There are over three hundred reality shows at the moment, all harshly promoting either one or all of these things: materialism, physical beauty, and bullying. While some shows are based on these principles, many promote them unintentionally.
Beauty has always been important in society, and almost everything nowadays is focused on making you look better. Reality shows, however, take the idea of beauty further. You cannot roam through TV channels without seeing dozens of surgically altered faces. Reality shows such as Bridalplasty, Botched, and The Swan focus on beauty. Bridalplasty revolves around brides who want multiple appearance -altering procedures before their weddings, while The Swan takes an average girl and puts her through a three-month transformation process, so she can compete in a pageant full of other plastic faces. These shows have caused a nationwide phenomenon: plastic surgery. Along with all other surgical procedures, plastic surgery is dangerous. A popular form of cosmetic surgery, tummy tucks, pose a 1 in 500 chance of death. Hundreds of thousands are performed each year. For individuals over 50, a common cosmetic procedure, the face-lift, has a 1 in 600 risk of death. When asked in 2012, 78 percent of patients who received plastic surgery admitted that reality TV was a large influence in their decision.
In almost all reality shows bigger is better; there’s always an essence of extravagance. Yet is that mindset a good thing? With the explosion of reality TV came shows like My Super Sweet Sixteen, which told young people that in order to be happy or popular they needed the most extravagant things in the world. The Rich Kids of Beverly Hills on E!, further expressed the “importance” of materialism. Teens, who are most susceptible to persuasion, become obsessed with the profligate lifestyle of the characters on this show. During an interview with David Blum for Kindle Singles in 2013, President Barack Obama chastised reality star Kim Kardashian and rapper Kanye West after they spent 827,000 dollars on gold plated toilets. President Obama is firmly against the promotion of materialistic lifestyles and believes celebrities who show off their wealth to fans have unintentionally changed the aspirations of young people. Obama later said, “I don’t think people went around saying to themselves, ‘I need to have a 10,000-square-foot (3048 square metre) house’ […] I think, there has also been a shift in culture. We weren’t exposed to these things, we didn’t have it in the same way that kids these days do.” The direct look into the lives of celebrities is altering how we define success.
Within recent years bullying has become a pressing issue and organizations have been created to combat it. While some reality shows involve actual talent and promote life-changing aspirations, such as weight loss, you can’t ignore what most of them are about. According to the logic of these shows, you can stick people in a confined space and/or stressful situation, offer a fat wad of money to the person left standing at the end, and watch them turn on each other. A vital part of reality TV seems to be people ganging up on one another. Many may disagree, finding it amusing and entertaining, or arguing that social harmony may not help ratings. However it is impossible to ignore the fact that there’s a ton of lying and manipulation on these shows. Many of the contestants pretend to be friends, only to turn on each other later. We laugh at the name-calling and witty remarks, and can’t seem to look away when a fight breaks out. Why is it okay to laugh when at these things on TV, when in real life we would not find it nearly as comical? Are reality shows promoting that bullying? To get what you want and “win the game” you must be mean to others. When did screaming, name calling, and tantrum throwing become an acceptable form of communication?
If it is so bad, why do so many people watch it? Reality TV, while very harmful, isn’t completely corrupt. American Idol, The Voice, America’s got Talent, and the X Factor all promote the beauty of natural talent. These shows have positively inspired people around the world. A 2010 America’s got Talent contestant, Ali Christensen Wilde, said, “They literally just followed us around and saw our lives without trying to drum up any drama. They just wanted to see the person and their talent and that’s what it was all about.” The simplicity of the show is what gives it its appeal. People are given the opportunity to follow their dreams and that’s all they have to do. They build themselves up to win, instead of tearing other people down. The Biggest Loser, which premiered in 2004, has inspired many Americans to be more health conscious and work harder for their goals. Bill Germanakos, the season four winner of The Biggest Loser said, “It shows obese people that are helpless and hopeless that there is HOPE and is meant to inspire and motivate those who thought they had tried everything.” The show has saved and permanently changed millions of lives.
What many people do not understand is that reality TV is not actual reality. It is true that there is no script, but just because there is no script doesn’t make it real. There are writers who craft plotlines, twisting and altering the footage to make a more interesting story. Frankenbiting: this word may seem fake, but it is a term reality TV producers created to describe the art of cutting and pasting dialogue to create a sentence that never existed. This is used to manipulate the viewer and make them believe that what is being said is true. An example of this would be when someone is talking and the camera shifts to another object, but you still hear the person speaking. Many marvel at the lives of the people on these shows, wishing that their lives could be even a fraction as interesting, when the truth is they aren’t that unique. In truth, writers and producers craft the lives of the people on these shows, which become a cheaper version of real TV shows.
There are probably many people who still think reality TV is nothing to worry about. They may claim they understand what it is and watch it out of pure boredom. Though that may be true, they are still absorbing everything they see, and promoting it either intentionally or unintentionally. We shouldn’t allow these shows to distort what we consider beautiful, meaningful, and morally correct. Remember that these shows aren’t real and don’t depict a true representation of reality.