In the past decade, a different genre of television known as “reality” television has become more popular in mainstream culture. Although it still has many fans, reality TV as angered many in recent years.
The genre’s title would lead one to believe that what he/she is seeing is actually reality, even a documentary in a way. This has been proven to be untrue many times. In 2004, the television network VH1 aired a program titled Reality TV Secrets Revealed, which detailed reality TV producers many misleading tricks used to gain network and audience attention and viewership.
These tricks consisted of (but were not limited to) unreal environments set up to create certain dramatic situations, misleading editing of dialogue or actions to portray certain characters as bad or good, premeditated scripting and acting, and restaging of events that may or may not have actually occurred.
This broadcast shocked reality TV viewers everywhere, as it was revealed that shows like The Hills and Hell’s Kitchen were not only partially scripted, but that a number of the participants were paid, improvisational actors. Shows like The Restaurant and Survivor, it was later revealed, often recreate scenes that weren’t captured on film, or fabricate new events entirely.
Participants on shows like The Bachelor series, Hell’s Kitchen and Joe Millionaire came foreword after their time on the shows and admitted to acting over-dramatic in order to receive more camera time, and in some cases, a bigger paycheck.
As of late, it seems like the most popular reality show among high school students is MTV’s Jersey Shore. If readers have never seen “Jersey” first of all they’re lucky. Second of all it’s about a group of eight housemates and friends that spend their summer on the Atlantic coast in the New Jersey area. The candid camera antics consist of the eight bumbling leads in their searches for love, happiness, money, and their next big adventure in each sex, alcohol and rage fueled 42-minute episode.
If one were to visit the MTV website and watch an episode and a half, he/she could expect to feel what can only be described as the beginnings of onset clinical depression mixed with a sick stomach and the pain of insulted intelligence.
Although it’s both trashy and tasteless, Jersey Shore is brilliant. Not brilliant in its quality, or its message, or even its editing; but in its ability to distort reality and infantilize its audience more so than any other reality show on television.
Before even watching any of Jersey Shore, or any of these other shows an idea of what people at Webster were watching as far as reality TV goes was needed. An unscientific survey of 34 randomly chosen people was conducted. The question asked was: Which reality television show do you watch (if any): American Idol, Jersey Shore or Survivor?
The results, to say the least, were shocking. Only three out of the 34 said they watched American Idol, another three for Survivor, 10 for “Jersey” and a surprising 18 out of 34 said that they watch none of these shows.
There had to be a reason for these results. One might assume some of the participants were lying when they said they watched none of these shows. This assumption was wrong. Upon why they watched none of the shows mentioned above, the participants mentioned displeasure or even anger at how the shows have been lately. One in particular is American Idol.
American Idol is a reality television show and singing competition program that started in June of 2002. During each hour-long episode, contestants from across America sing their hearts out in front of a panel of judges, one of which was the merciless and irritable Simon Cowell, until it was announced that he would not be on the show for the 2011 season.
Fans of the show were shocked, and it started losing viewers even before Cowell announced he was leaving. The answer to why this happened is clear: people liked Cowell’s brutal honesty and lack of a sense of humor. He was like a booming voice of reason on the show. The one who went against the rest of the smiling judges on almost all decisions regarding the contestants.
People stopped watching the show because they realized it would begin to lack the spark that someone like Cowell added to it, but isn’t that the very definition of realty TV? Showing the sparks and flickers (no matter how hyperbolized they may be) of people’s lives, or their 15 minutes of fame, or their race for the prize?
Maybe reality television isn’t meant to be taken as reality at all, but as an over exaggeration of actual reality put forth to entertain and distract society, and point out human faults and differences in order to make better people out of everyone.
The great American author Mark Twain once said,
“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”
In this context, those words ring truer than ever.