Painful to Watch (The Reality TV Train Wreck)

Surprise! Reality TV is not reality; it is scripted situations arranged to cause conflict for entertainment. If you aren’t familiar with this television genre, it is described as television programs in which ordinary people are continuously filmed, designed to be entertaining rather than informative. You may have already known this; however, a lot of concern is that reality television does not accurately reflect reality, whether indirectly or directly. At times, it can appear dishonest or misleading to audiences. Viewers get hints of this in suspicious editing, cast members being coached on what to say or how to act and scenes being staged for the cameras. Other criticism of reality tv is that it is intended to humiliate or exploit cast members; that they make stars out of either untalented people, infamous pop personalities, or both; and that they glamorize profanity and materialism. Reality TV viewers are shown a negative and unrealistic perspective on reality. And this overtime can hurt our society.

Often with reality television, people are exposed to an inaccurate portrayal of life. Reality TV gives a negative impression on how to be successful today. Most adults work for a living which is how they pay for whatever lifestyle they live. With reality television, this is not normally the case. Most characters we see on these shows hardly ever work or earn the means to party and live lavish as depicted. An example of this would be the reality show Bad Girls Club where a group of rebellious women are put in a mansion together in an experiment intended to moderate their behavior.

On some reality shows, undesirable pathways to fame and fortune are glamourized as the way to succeed. Take for instance, former Love and Hip Hop cast member Cardi B. whose story is angled as a rag to riches tale. She reportedly started out as a stripper, turned boisterous reality star, who has since parlayed her television time into a budding rap career (currently her song “Bodak Yellow” is number 1 in America). By their own accounts, most of the women who appear on the various versions of Love and Hip Hop are either former or present exotic dancers. What makes this difficult to understand in our society can be best illustrated in a comparison. Someone such as Cardi B may be viewed as a more relatable pop figure than let’s say, former first lady Michelle Obama, who’s a product of a middle-class family, college graduate and successful lawyer. The potential danger in it all is if impressionable people view what they see on reality tv in fact as reality – this may lead many of them to mimic such adverse behavior; to which they may find there’s no camera crews, tv or music contracts on the other side of the stripper pole.

Another problem with reality tv is the false sense of beauty it portrays to young males and females. For young males the women who have had physical alterations through plastic surgery can begin to look like the standard rather than the exception. Unrealistic expectations of what a woman should look like can be misleading and damaging to their relationships with females. These males in turn may project the warped ideals they hold onto females they encounter. Imagine the males in our society growing up to expect all women – whether wife, mother, daughter, sister, niece or cousin to meet the standards set by some producer of a reality tv show, who arranges it like so for ratings. For young women who watch reality tv, it can possibly give them false ideas about what a woman is, should look like or how she should carry herself. These artificial images can give young impressionable ladies a complex or make them insecure about how they look naturally. From Keeping Up with the Kardashians to Basketball Wives the message seems clear – the way to become beautiful is through surgery.

Very rarely do we see positive, encouraging or endearing moments on reality tv. With all the violence, profanity and aggressive behavior, reality tv influences young viewers in a negative way. Most of this programming is designed around conflict, drama and unruly behavior. Anyone who has spent any amount of time watching reality tv will quickly become familiarized with the staples of this form of programming - profanity laced arguments, lots of drinking, promiscuous actions, physical altercations, gossiping and rudeness seem to be the norm. At first glance, these actions may draw attention or seem entertaining. Over time one can become desensitized to the unfavorable activity. Beyond that the negative leadership displayed by most reality shows can be perceived as the appropriate way to handle adult matters. Dare we imagine a world where disagreements are managed by yelling, cursing and throwing drinks at each other?

So, is reality tv hurting us? By all accounts that answer could be “Yes”. This isn’t hard to surmise. Yet, one must wonder ‘should there be some form of ethics and morality instilled into today’s top form of programming? Television as a form of media is extremely powerful. Most people are inclined to believe what they see more so than what they hear or read. The United States has one of the highest rates of television ownership in the world. Almost everyone in our country spends some time watching television but it is people with less education (who are also those with lower incomes) who spend the most time watching TV. If this is true we can only guess as to how many, not only watch reality tv, but are impacted in a negative way by it. The main ingredients today for such damaging programs are consistent across the board. Just take some highly emotional people, put them in a confined space, add liquor, turn on the cameras and watch the sparks fly. Some may argue whether it’s true or not that reality tv is hurting us. But as it stands the bad seem to outweigh the good in this case. It seems that if the desire is to influence people in a positive way, reality tv would not be the tool to use.

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