Reality Television

By: Christina Hackman

It is estimated that over 99% of American households have at least one television set. Television was created over fifty years ago and has had a large impact on American society. Some argue that watching television creates a positive impact by having the potential to inform and educate the public and to keep people connected. While others say that television can play a negative role to one’s mental and physical health. Regardless of whether it is healthy or not it is still the most prominent use of technology in our society today. There is a seemingly new type of television that has become increasingly popular through out the last decade, Reality Television.

Although documentary styled television shows have been around almost as long as television, the first real type of reality show was first seen in 1989 with the show Cops, which showed police officers on duty. This was the first time that a show followed real life people instead of scripted actors. However, the “original” reality show is considered to be the Real World, which aired in 1992. This show documented the lives of real people living day-to-day life in a house together. At the time it was seen as a documentary styled television show. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that reality television picked up in popularity. The phrase “Reality Television” was coined after the large success of shows such as Survivor and Big Brother. These shows had a similar aspect to the Real World but instead of a camera simply following these people in day-to-day life, these shows depicted contestants in competition with one another for prizes.

This type of television is becoming so prominent in our society that it is almost impossible to turn through channels without finding multiple reality television shows. There are several different kinds of reality television made for different types of channels. These include; dating, talk, sports, makeovers, competition and many more. On the four major cable stations; ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, each station has at least 7 reality shows on their rosters. These include some of the most watched television shows today. The tenth most watched television show is America’s Got Talent aired on NBC. The fifth most watched television show is Survivor aired on CBS. The third most watched show is Dancing with the Stars on ABC and the most watched television should of all time is American Idol, which airs on Fox. What these four shows have in common is that they are all reality based shows, showing the extreme obsession American’s currently has with reality television.

In Culture Jam, Kalle Lasn discusses the idea of mental pollutants. One of these pollutants is Unreality. He says that many people take part in watching tv and spending time in cyber space as a way of escaping the real world and allowing yourself to not be a citizen. This explains the obsession with some reality television. Watching real people involved with these shows allow those watching to live vicariously through them. They are allowed to get immersed into the drama and the excitement of what is happening. It is more relatable seeing real people on television. There are many reasons why some reality shows become so popular. Television shows that depict people in turmoil allow the audience to feel better about themselves. Other shows having a voting system that allows the audience to be a part of the show. Within all of these reasons there is a pattern that the audience member is a part of the show and what is happening.

No matter what the reason reality television has become a prominent aspect of media in our societies lives. With over 200 reality shows currently playing it is clear that if you are going to watch television, you are going to come across a reality show or two. It is important to study how reality shows affect people because of how popular they have become in the last decade. This type of television show formatting has become a prominent part of popular culture.

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