Examining Reality TV: The Effects on Society

In order to adequately analyze the effects on society that reality TV perpetuates, it is important to first examine and understand why and how reality TV came into fruition. Looking back on our history, we see economic recession as the smoking gun so to speak for the creation of this new sort of media. Reality TV provided producers with an easy and cheap way to continue to produce film media, whilst turning a huge profit. This new innovation allowed for free sets, and no need to pay writers, since the shows wrote themselves; the only expense was a film crew and an editing team, which could easily be exploited. This was the answer to the flailing media industry, which was experiencing a decline in journalism, and a deeply rooted need for cheap content.

Reality TV has largely changed the way in which we as a society function and view ourselves as well as others, and has changed the landscape of traditional celebrity. To begin, we must examine social media as a whole and what it means for society. TV is a large player in how social constructs are made, be it of ideal imagery, how one should act in certain situations, and even fosters consumerism, telling what to buy in a way that makes us believe that we need an item because of the direct correlation with our happiness. Reality TV is no different from subversive advertisements in this sense, and is possibly even more sinister in the way it preaches and creates certain imagery that becomes deeply ingrained within our culture, exemplifying the important and evolving role of television in the modern world.

As discussed by Ouellette and Hay, reality TV constructs and exemplifies in a vicious cycle, what normatively is, in a sense teaching us as a society, how to play the game, and how to adequately participate in life accordingly. Television, and particularly reality TV, teaches us how to act and how to behave. Even more importantly, it teaches us how to monitor, motivate, and improve ourselves as individuals according to the ideals portrayed in these television shows. Reality TV provides the masses with the tools and techniques necessary for shaping and guiding an individual’s life in outward appearance as well as their private associations with others.

Jersey Shore

It is particularly important to analyze the specific bodily messages and attitudes about physical beauty that are communicated via reality TV. This is markedly crucial in examining the efficaciously negative consequences fostered by reality TV. Because it is “reality,” ludicrous expectations of beauty are only further imposed on society, in a way that advertisement cannot. Many TV shows, such as “Extreme Makeover,” and “What Not to Wear” market how change will allow an individual relief. This is a main argument of Weber, who marks how reality TV employs a message of change allowing an individual to meet social expectations, and thus become happier, more productive individuals through this twisted top down, trickledown theory of happiness through physical change. TV shows such as the ones previously mentioned, and “Extreme Makeover Weightless Edition” seen in clip below,emphasize change as means of conforming to the status quo of what it means to be beautiful, which is a social construct that is only further reinforced by advertisement and reality TV, rather than advocating change for health purposes. Reality TV uses the body as a message, and uses these alterations be it through plastic surgery or a wardrobe change, to capitalize on the exploitation of bodily anxieties. It promises success through an achieved beauty, which as previously mentioned is socially constructed. This bombardment of imagery fosters the internalization of a monitoring gaze within an individual, and is only further fueled through consumerism. Despite all this, it is important to remember that the “after” images are only given power through the “before” photos provided, and the comparison between the two in terms of what is expected and deemed normal or beautiful within society.

Another essential aspect of examining the effects of reality TV on society, is analyzing the stereotypes on which it is constructed and which it perpetuates. As discussed by Pozner, there are about 9 or 10 stock characters found in reality TV. These typical characters range from the good girl vs. the slut battle, to the angry black woman, and the gangster guy. These exist as a way of quickly characterizing individuals, as well as a quick way to gain an understanding of these people and other random information pertinent to their understanding. This quick information and categorizing is the reason why all stereotypes essentially exist. However, these stereotypes are harmful not only in the sense of how society functions and how individuals see themselves within the grand scheme of society, but also how certain groups of people, and Americans as a whole as perceived on an international scale. http://en.ria.ru/art_living/20130119/178877245.html, http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/phil/blphil_eth_realitytv.htm, and http://powderroom.jezebel.com/how-to-avoid-reality-tv-stereotypes-in-actual-reality-508295937 all examine the effects of reality TV stereotypes and the issues that are faced as a result. These stereotypes perpetuate negative ideals, about beauty, sexuality, and types of people (low brow people such as in “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.) With this in mind, what is possibly the largest exploitation of stereotypes through reality TV is the reinforcement of the American Dream, and how anybody can “make it,” as described by Sternheimer. Fame, with reality-based fame largely changing what celebrity means, is used as an escape and as a way to foster and bolster social mobility markedly through economic gain. Teen Mom is a great example of this.

In closing, reality TV is an entity that came about as a direct need for cheap entertainment, which has funnily enough contributed largely to the reinforcement of fame and economic gains as a means of social mobility. The underpinning of stereotypes and extension of social constructs thrust upon society, as well as the use of the body as a means of communicating these social constructs and ideals is something that has longevity. Simply put, the relationships and interconnectedness discussed between these three main identity categories is one that is here to stay until society, and thus television ratings reflect something different.

Works Cited

-Ouellette, Laurie and Hay, James. “TV’s Constitution of Citizenship.”Better Living through Reality TV. Ed. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2008. Pg 170-202.

-Weber, Brenda. “Beauty, Desire, and Anxiety.” Genders. Ann Kibbey. 2005. Web. November 21, 2013. <http://www.genders.org/g41/g41_weber.html>

-Sternheimer, Karen. “Succes For Just Being You.” Celebrity Culture and the American Dream. Ed. Routledge. 2011. Pg 218-240.

-Pozner, Jennifer. “Reality TV’s Nine Wost Stock Characters.” Newsweek. IBT Media Inc. 2013. Web. November 21, 2013.

-“Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition – Meet Rachel.” YouTube. YouTube, 23 May 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwwoGD4xlTU&gt;.

-N.d. Photograph. Blogher. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. <http://www.blogher.com/files/Jersaey%20Shore.jpg&gt;.




One comment

  1. I really enjoyed your project. Good job! You made some very interesting (and valid) points that really help put things into perspective regarding the subliminal messages that reality TV is poisoning people with today. I absolutely agree that it is cheap entertainment, and I think the combination of the tremendous amount of money that is saved and also the remarkably large number of positive from viewers fuel and reinforce the production of these ridiculous superficial shows. Although they are entertaining, they are hardly a reality. They simply showcase the “ideal” way of life and the “ideal” image. Also, they reinforce negative stereotypes about certain types of people. “Here comes Honey Boo Boo” is a perfect example of this. What really bothers me about so many of these reality TV shows is how the production team tries to make appear as though the shows are intended to be “inspirational”. An example of this would be, “What Not to Wear”. The title alone sounds superficial! Another part of your analysis that I felt was a very strong point was when you said “the “after” images are only given power through the “before photos provided. That is so true! Good job!

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