Reality TV pretends to be a “slice-of-life”

Illustration by Amelia Madarang

Reality TV is one of the most popular genres of television to date. Despite its name, it is not an accurate representation of reality. Unfortunately, some viewers are more susceptible than others to buy into this false portrayal of reality, which can give them wrong ideas about propriety. This is not to say that all reality TV is toxic. There are still plenty of shows that provide positive influence; however, the media tends to focus on the chaff rather than the grain. 

Reality TV is marketed and sold to consumers as slice-of-life storytelling. However, the mundane and arbitrary do not sell as well as the networks would like. This is where postproduction comes in. It is where networks cut and paste clips together, overlay dramatic sound effects and manufacture entertainment. There is nothing inherently wrong with these practices. Audiences want to be entertained, and these same measures are used in every other popular genre of TV. However, marketing this material as “real life” gives certain viewers the wrong idea. 

“Keeping Up with the Kardashians” is one of my favorite examples of reality TV, and the reactions people have in response to it are amusing. When the show is brought up, I often hear people express hope for the physical harm of the Kardashians. These wants are not based on their interactions with the Kardashians, but with the fictional portrayal of them. In my experience, my peers and many TV viewers seem to not quite grasp that reality TV is manufactured entertainment. In the same sense that your Snapchat or Instagram story is not an accurate depiction of your day-to-day life, reality TV focuses on what viewers will find entertaining.

Taking it at face value can also lead to real-world problems. According to the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, reality TV displays perpetrated aggression at a higher rate than other genres. TV influences society by establishing cultural norms; thus, by consuming reality TV as a depiction of real life, viewers may justify mimicking aggression. However, not all reality TV depicts bad behavior. There are plenty of shows that celebrate the accomplishments of everyday people. 

From competition shows like “The Great British Bake Off” to “Skin Wars,” there are options that underscore the goodness in humanity. These shows depict people overcoming difficult tasks in competition with one another yet they still remain civil and supportive. In contrast to many reality TV shows, by displaying seemingly everyday people accomplishing extraordinary things, these shows can uplift viewers’ own sense of ability.

Between these two ends of the spectrum, ranging from “The Great British Bake Off” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” lies the fantasy fulfillment shows like “Extreme Makeover” and “Queer Eye.” Like winning the lottery, the chances of getting on these shows are slim to none. The sole purpose of these escapist shows is to let viewers project themselves into fantasy scenarios. They demonstrate that change is only possible when an entire crew of professionals is there to help. While they do not seem to have adverse effects on people, they entice viewers through the possibility that they may one day see themselves on television. 

Reality TV, like every other genre, has its diamonds in the rough. It is neither inherently bad nor a stain on society. Rather, it can influence society in both productive and damaging ways. While there is nothing sinister about it, audiences should be aware that it is a curated imitation of life meant to entertain, not to accurately depict reality. 

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