What Is the Relationship between Reality TV and Society?

Lee Johnson

The precise nature of the relationship between reality TV and society as a whole is a complicated issue which has many aspects. Basically speaking, the television viewing public’s desire to watch reality television indicates that people may prefer to watch more relatable people on television and gain valuable social information from the events played out on reality television. It could also be argued that reality television is a symptom of a society more interested in having 15 minutes of fame than actually expanding their mind or horizons.

Reality TV trends suggests that viewers are drawn to shows featuring people who are relatable to their own lives.
Reality TV trends suggests that viewers are drawn to shows featuring people who are relatable to their own lives.

Many different types of reality television programs exist, but most either follow ordinary people in their lives and jobs; renovate or makeover a person, possession, or home; or pit people against each other in some form of competition. Some reality TV shows are talent searches, where ordinary people get an opportunity to showcase their talent and chase the dream of fame. Other reality TV programs pit people against each other in a game show-type scenario. The link between reality TV and society can be understood by thinking about these different types of program.

Some reality TV shows are talent searches, where people get an opportunity to showcase their talents and chase dreams of fame.
Some reality TV shows are talent searches, where people get an opportunity to showcase their talents and chase dreams of fame.

Game show reality TV shows put people in difficult positions, and the viewing audience generally enjoys the discomfort the people go through, even sometimes voting for who goes through the trial. This combination of difficult tasks and social pressure allows people to judge the correct way to deal with similar social situations and take on tasks that they do not wish to complete. Some reality TV shows are more like social experiments that allow viewers to watch as a group of strangers begins to interact socially. Reality TV is interconnected with society because it gives us the ability to watch and learn from the social mistakes of others.

Dating programs are one popular kind of reality TV.
Dating programs are one popular kind of reality TV.

Talent search reality television programs present a different view of the relationship between reality TV and society. While reality TV does arguably give people relatable characters to watch, it also fosters in some people a belief that they could be famous. Contestants on talent search reality TV shows often believe that becoming a celebrity is the main goal of life, whether it is for the attention or the money. Many people have suggested that the connection between reality TV and society is that people are more interested in money and fame than in things which are actually important. This and similar lines of reasoning have led some to believe that reality TV is a symptom of the corruption of our desires and the superficial nature of modern society.

Reality TV competitions may damage a person's self-esteem if they are not perceived as popular with the audience.
Reality TV competitions may damage a person's self-esteem if they are not perceived as popular with the audience.
Concerns have been raised that reality TV shows can distort a child's perception of society.
Concerns have been raised that reality TV shows can distort a child's perception of society.
Some criticism of reality TV deals with a focus on the sexual nature of participants and whether the depictions encourage promiscuity.
Some criticism of reality TV deals with a focus on the sexual nature of participants and whether the depictions encourage promiscuity.

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Discussion Comments

pollick
@Ruggercat68, I stopped watching a few reality shows for that very reason. I felt cheated after finding out a lot of those "real people" were unknown actors playing characters. The people on the Amish shows either weren't Amish, or they had already quit the church years before the show started filming.

I think reality shows filled a need in society years ago when they would just put up hidden cameras and let people be themselves. I thought the first year of "The Real World" did that very well. If there was a fight on the show, it happened naturally. I thought it was useful to see two people from totally opposite backgrounds figure out a way to get along.

Ruggercat68

What I like about some reality shows is that I get to see how people I'll probably never meet in real life go about their day. I get to see pawn shop owners deal with customers and Louisiana crocodile hunters check their traps. I couldn't do what they do, but at least I can watch them do it on television.

However, what I really don't like about other reality shows is that they're not based on reality. Most people spend about a half hour a day doing something interesting, and the rest of the day eating or sleeping or shopping. The producers of these reality shows realize this, so they'll set up fake conflicts or plant interesting things in storage lockers just to make the show more interesting. Half the time, I think the people are reading from a script. What good is a reality show if it's not about reality?

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