Loving to Hate Reality TV
These days, it seems as though every time you blink, there is a new reality show racing out of the television floodgates. From nationwide searches for the next big inventor to gold-digging wannabe divas competing for the love of a veteran hip-hop star, reality shows have either reached an all-time high or a down and dirty low. Either way, every single reality show, no matter how dimwitted or intriguing, is a guilty pleasure that the majority of the American population can't get enough of -- particularly 18- to 25-year-olds.
According to a survey taken in 2005 by PollingPoint.com, almost half of our nation's younger generation watches more reality television than last year. Eighteen- to 25-year-olds watch close to four reality shows a week.
There is no denying it -- reality television is like an addictive drug. At first glance of this television indulgence, you are curious to what it's all about -- so you try it. Before you know it, you're going out of your way to make time for the latest craze in the redundant genre. No matter how stupid or obnoxious these worthless pieces of drivel are, we watch them. But why? Is it some philosophical undercurrent driving the decay of western society? Or is it just plain, good ol' fashioned entertainment for us to giggle at behind the closed doors of our home? Regardless of the reason, many of us -- especially I -- love to hate this form of entertainment.
Calling this kind of television "reality" is a big overstatement. It's more like a flexible kind of reality. If we were considering reality television "real," then all of us who are trying to live in the "real world" would be able to go out and find a rent-free luxury penthouse, live with six other strangers and have nightly bouts of drunken promiscuity.
Generally, these reality shows can be broken down into several categories -- dating, celebrity docu-soaps, game shows, makeovers, fantasies fulfilled, law enforcement, talent searches and others. Viewers have their favorite kind. Even if a person says he or she doesn't watch reality TV, five times out of 10, I think they're lying. Once again, our PollingPoint.com survey shows that in 2005, even people who were over the age of 55 were keeping up with at least two reality shows.
In the early '90s, when it was worth watching, MTV premiered an experimental television show, uniquely titled The Real World, about seven 20-something strangers picked to live in a loft. Slowly, yet surely, this started a revolution in television -- it also served as a catalyst for my obsession for reality television aka RTV. Sure, the show has now been reduced to trivial tear-jerking drama from whiny little attention whores, but luckily there is a veritable landslide of alternatives for us.
For starters, there is the overzealous circus talent show called American Idol, the reality series that gave Kelly Clarkson her name. (Did I mention she forgot to thank the show when she accepted her Grammy Award?) Nonetheless, the show is a spectacle. Millions of dreamful pop stars stand in line for hours, even days, in various parts of the country in hopes to become a famous musical superstar. From these millions, we get to see them showcase their talent (or lack thereof) in front of mega music producer Randy Jackson, ex-pop pinup girl Paula Abdul and the Englishman everybody snidely adores, Simon Cowell. Already in its fifth season, the show already irritates me because I think no one will ever fill Miss Clarkson's shoes, yet I put my life on pause in order to watch it.
Same goes with America's Next Top Model, a nationwide search for -- you guessed it -- America's next top model. Hosted by former Victoria Secret vixen Tyra Banks, the show puts aspiring models in real-life model situations. They go through drastic makeovers, painstaking photo shoots, themed challenges and other modelesque things. The show may give superficiality a new name, but I simply adore it. The aspects I enjoy most about this show are the end results from the photo shoots. They are wonderful pieces of commercial art that tinge the senses. The show definitely doesn't skimp on the drama. It's only natural that when you put a herd of competitive wannabe models in a house, cattiness will ensue. It makes me think that sometimes shows like this rely on the tiffs and spats rather than the actual premise.
On a different level from these no-brainer shows are competitions like Project Runway and The Apprentice. With Project Runway, it brings a bit of "artistry" to the genre. In this reality treat, designers compete in weekly themed challenges to create an outfit under a stressful deadline. Considering my interest in fashion, I have a slight bias to this show. Nonetheless, unlike other reality shows, the contestants actually have to put a lot of thought into what they create -- and I mean A LOT. The series is pulsating with creativity and thoughtfulness -- and it doesn't hurt that a lot of ratings-driven drama happens between the seams. But here, people talk more about the actual designs rather than the fights that happen. Hell, for a show that holds its season finale at Olympus Fashion Week, there has to be some sort of acclaim attached to it.
With Donald Trump'sThe Apprentice, a group of successful business men and women compete at the chance to be Donald Trump's next employee. Instead of calling it a "reality show," they refer to it as an "interview process." Whatever. The first time seeing this show I was floored by the intensity of the competition, and of course, I was obsessed with the business diva Omarosa. Even though it was one of the most-talked about reality shows in 2005, each season has grown monotonous like a new toy that has lost its novelty. There is nothing fresh about it anymore.
As we get deeper into the 21st century, the concept of the family sitcom has pretty much become obsolete. Spinoff shows have even started from reality TV (i.e., Battle of the Reality Network Stars.) Even so, the days of wholesome family fun have turned into nothing but a bunch of competitions, shallow arguments and a landfill of D-list celebrity garbage to provide water cooler talk the next day. Either this type of television is an evolution in entertainment or a devolution of American culture.
Today when we look at the sitcoms of the past like Growing Pain and Full House, we get a feeling of hokey nostalgia. They may have been bubbling over with cheesy morals, but at least there were morals involved. There were even underrated shows like My So Called Life, which gave distressed scenarios fueled by teen angst, but at least we found some sort of meaning in it. These days, RTV is a form of light entertainment that is in great demand by a society that, for the most part, doesn't have nightly family dinners, uses television as a babysitter and thinks that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are the most important thing in the news. The demand for reality television may be high, but when will it ever be enough? There isn't a decent balance of "fictional" TV and reality TV. There's only so much baggage you can put on the reality show camel's back before it topples over and dies.
Perhaps we like reality television because these people on the shows are kind of like us. They are just average Janes and Joes trying to make it in the world. But once they cross that threshold of RTV, they become an odd brand of celebrity that we love to hate.
These shows also give us a means to live vicariously through the "characters" on the show. That may be a general aspect of entertainment, but with these reality stars, it hits closer to home. Most of the time, these people are not people we aim to be, but since they are ordinary, their nonfictional significance is more attainable. These people we watch are not celebrities encased in the "holier than thou" bubble of Hollywood. In essence, they are like us. These people are nobodies that have turned into a "somebody," so their dramatic episodes are a bizarre type of voyeurism that we indulge in. They may be annoying as hell, but at the end of the day, RTV is a form of therapy to escape our own version of reality.