In an earlier post I mentioned my bias against Reality Television. If I was being honest, it is more of a disdain. A disgust. Like when someone says “Moist” really slowly and accentuates the “st” at the end. “Moi…STTT.” That is how much I do not like Reality TV. (Sorry for making you read that.)
The source of my revulsion comes from the way that Reality TV pretends to take away the veil between fiction and nonfiction. You are watching people talking to one another, going through their lives, relating to one another, relating to you through the confessional booth, and having conflict. The problem is that this isn’t the reality television that I grew up with – when reality TV shows came out of a writers strike and the broadcasters had to create a product that didn’t require scripts. No, this is a highly scripted, highly crafted and focus group tested exercise turning you into a consumer of these quasi-celebrities’ lives. Honestly, shows like MTV’s Real World or Survivor weren’t all that “Real” either though.
Snapple Fact of the Day: The first reality TV show that, which is still being aired today… COPS.
Not only do we become consumer of fake-real people, but I feel like it adjusts our baseline for reality (real reality, not reality TV). Instead of using our internal experience of conflict as a guide, we buy into the idea that the fights that these people have on screen are real representations of conflict – even though they aren’t. The worst case scenario is that we take these actors as a guide for how to relate, and the best case scenario is that we use their overreactions as a comparison point for our behaviors. “At least I didn’t string together a dozen cuss words like one of the Kardashians.” All of this tends to happen on a subconscious level as well. We aren’t having this conversation with ourselves, it just happens.
Lastly, I feel like these shows are exploitive. Some are explicitly exploitive like the Honey Boo Boos and Toddlers and Tiaras. These shows serve only as ways to make fun of these odd subgroups – a modern day PT Barnum. They’ve replaced the Bearded Woman with, “The Woman who hyper-sexualizes her child.” BF Skinner, father of modern behavioral psychology, once famously said that he could get any woman naked, given the right conditions. He of course was referring to how people routinely take off their clothes for medical professionals and do not ascribe the same meaning that they do for this same behavior with their romantic partners. Reality TV producers have taken this literally, putting out shows like, “The Man who will eat Beetles by the handful and then stab his friend in the back for CASH!”
I feel like it is important to burst the Reality TV bubble so that when we watch these shows, we appreciate them for the fiction that they are, in hopes that they don’t subtly shift our values.
-Logan Williamson, LPC