Reality TV: The Good and The Bad

To many viewers, reality television is a form of entertainment but there is more to it than that.

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  1. As a form of entertainment that keeps us interested, reality television does exactly that. It comes in many genres which include game shows, family shows and relationship shows. Reality television has grown into a big business and it seems like there is a television show geared towards people's likes. Some shows have the purpose of telling a story while other shows exist for pure entertainment. No matter what the purpose of a reality television show is, there are always many issues that it faces. Along with the many issues surrounding reality television, I will also discuss the purpose that reality television shows serve.
  2. There are several reality television shows that serve the purpose of telling a true story and also advocate for that story. Many reality television shows remind people about certain problems that exist in life and ways to take care of that problem. There are many shows that exist to tell a visual narrative. Two shows that are examples of this genre include "16 and Pregnant" and "True Life". Both of these shows tell the viewer of true stories and they also advocate for these stories so that the viewer can realize these issues. For example, "16 and Pregnant" focuses on advocating for safe sex. In a public service announcement for the show, it provides a website as a resource that viewers can go to. The show wants its viewers to be aware of the fact that there is an issue and that resources are available if they would like to find out more information. For that particular issue, the number of teenage pregnancies have decreased which shows the power of public service announcements and reality shows that showcase real life. Below is a link to a series of videos that are a prime example of the issue that "16 and Pregnant" is advocating for. It features the cast of "16 and Pregnant" and they mention a website, Itsyoursexlife.com, that is available as a resource.
  3. Reality television shows also serve the function of entertaining a varied demographic. Youth are one of those demographics and studies have found that reality television can have an affect on this group. An article from news magazine, Time, mentions that a survey was done by the Girl Scouts Research Institute to pinpoint the exact affects that reality television has on youth. The subject of this study was a group of young girls and it found that these shows, "...may have an impact on young girls' self-image...it may also influence the way they perceive their own relationships and their understanding of the way the world works" (Melnick 1). Many of the young girls in the study certainly based their appearance depending on how the people in the shows looked because of the percentage found in the study. The girls wanted to look the same way and questioned why they did not look similar to the person on the show. Although looks had influenced the girls, many of them were aware that these shows did not set a good example and did not give a realistic portrayal of society. Reality television shows promoted a feeling of despair in the girls but they saw these shows as a way for them to learn and talk about it with family or friends.
  4. If you watch reality television shows and recognize that most of them seem to always have a perfectly put together beginning, middle, and end, it is because they do. The article below by the Washington Post said that reality shows are created in such a manner to create flawless storytelling (Booth 1). Viewers might not know it, but a lot of writing and editing goes into reality shows which is why we see more and more of them being called scripted. Since most reality television shows are scripted, most of them contain more situations that are false. An example of a reality television show that is scripted is "House Hunters". It is located on the television channel HGTV and it focuses exactly on what the title of the show implies - house hunting. Although, to the viewer, the show may seem real, there have been many people who went on the show as house hunters and were able to vouch for the scripted and false nature of the show.
  5. Here is a video from ABC News explaining just how false of a show 'House Hunters' is:
  6. HGTV's 'House Hunters' Reality Show Fake?
  7. The following is a link to the article by the Washington Post that I mentioned in the paragraph above. It talks about how reality shows are not based on reality but rather scripted events:
  8. There is an endless variety of reality shows to choose from these days. One of the big reasons for this is because it does not cost as much to make. According to the article provided by the Washington Post, which is located above, reality shows that are game based are cheap because, "...they do not typically pay their contestants beyond a per diem and they don't pay union scale for writers or directors or the crews doing camera, sound, sets, and editing" (Booth 1). By paying contestants below the expected pay limit and not paying the standard wage for people that work behind the camera, the cost of reality shows are made relatively cheaper. Despite the low pay made by working in reality television, there are some workers in the field who say it it stimulating and fun. Other people disagree and say that it is grueling work that leaves you with no social life. When comparing reality shows with dramas or sitcoms, the cost of the former is nearly half of what it costs to make the latter type of show. As an article in the Writers Guild of America states, "Reality television...costs less than $500,000 for an hour or one-third of the cost of an hour of comedy or drama..." (Slocum 1). The value it costs to make reality programs compared to other types of programs have a huge difference.
  9. The following is a chart by information and measurement company Nielsen. It shows the popularity in the multiple forms of television programming. Although reality television was not popular between 2001 and 2002, it grew in viewership and is now a very popular form of programming.
  10. The following is a link to the article by the Writer's Guild of America, which I used to mentioned the cost of creating reality programming compared to other forms of programming:
  11. Reality television shows can be entertaining to watch but there can be adverse affects depending on the subject of the show. One of those most controversial genres of reality television shows are shows centered around children. A big concern has to do with the appearance of children in the media which concerns the risks and exploitation that they are open to. A study done at Seton Hall University says that those concerns are of great importance because of "...the vulnerability that accompanies childhood and because children do not understand the potential negative effects of participating in reality television..." (Rey 1). It is the fragileness and inability to fully understand that makes exploitation of children a very hair raising issue. Many parents express their concern because they do not want their children to be exploited. Fortunately, there are laws in place to protect these children from any exploitation in the media. The study mentions the Fair Labor Standards Act and says it is "...the federal law currently regulating child labor, including its prohibition against "oppressive child labor"..." (Rey 1). There are also state laws providing child labor laws. The exploitation of children in the media can be a touchy subject because of the consequences it holds. Having these two laws to protect children against exploitation is a positive step towards change.
  12. This video discusses the question of whether or not reality television exploits kids. It provides the television show "Toddlers & Tiaras" as an example. It mentions how that particular show exploits kids in a sexualized manner.
  13. Is Reality TV Exploiting Children?
  14. Below is a link to the study done at Seton Hall University which I mentioned above. It takes an in-depth look into the exploitation of children in reality television shows and the laws that are created to protect children who are on these types of shows.
  15. Another controversial genre of reality television programming are shows that focus on family dynamics that may be considered unique and taboo. One such unique family dynamic is the polygamist family as shown in the show "Sister Wives". The video below is a clip from ABC News that discusses this particular topic. It mentions a study which reported that "polygamy leads to greater levels of crime, violence, poverty and gender inequality and higher rates of child neglect and abuse". Findings like that are what leads to a negative portrayal of polygamy where people involved in this practice are scorned and looked down upon. The public has argued that polygamy allows for more secrecy that is subject to suspicion. Some people are pushing to change the negative way that polygamy is looked at and people like the Brown family from the television show "Sister Wives" are hoping to push for change.
  16. Polygamy Ruling in Utah
  17. Not only do reality television shows promote advocacy and controversy, they also promote stereotypes. There are multiple sterotypes created by reality television and the question that needs to be asked is if reality television creates dangerous sterotypes and, if that is true, is it something to be worried about? I believe that reality television does create stereotypes and it is something to be worried about. Shows like "Jersey Shore",for example, created a negative and stereotypical image of Italian-Americans. The stereotype that the cast of "Jersey Shore" portrayed angered Italian Americans because now they were precieved to act in a cetain manner. Stereotypes, as portrayed by reality television, is a subject that is negative more than it is positive. It can create a bad image of certain people that viewers may associate with everyone that they believe fits that same stereotype.
  18. Below is an article from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte newspaper, Niner Times, that talks about the various types of stereotypes promoted by reality television:
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