Reality TV is a fascinating development in televised entertainment. It differs from the average sitcom or drama series by representing real people in real situations, or at least that is the claim. The characters in reality TV shows are not, then, characters, they are people just like you and me who happen to be playing out their lives in front of a camera crew. This opens up a level of intense vulnerability and allows the viewer to connect and know them far better than they could ever know a character on a sitcom. People are drawn to this vulnerability because it allows for the illusion that the folk on the television screen are opening up fully to you and you get to remain safe and closed, receiving without giving up anything of yourself.
The image that reality TV actually represents reality has been shattered. No one watches reality shows and believes implicitly that everything caught on camera is undisputedly real. This connects to postmodernism and Baudrillard’s primacy of the image because it has become inconsequential whether or not reality television is pure reality. Even though the common knowledge of reality television being scripted or staged, it is still watched by viewers who can relate to some of the content so it is accepted as reality. What is reality but the images that we choose to believe, such as the iconic photograph of the American Flag being raised at Iwo Jima; the first flag raising wasn’t epic enough, so they staged another one later and that staged photograph has become the real memory of the event.
I believe that one can learn things in a constructive fashion from groups of people in reality TV shows if you care to look. For example the show Bridezillas, which chronicles the days leading up to the wedding of certain women who have been deemed a “Bridezilla”. These women exhibit astounding inconsideration for the help that they receive from their friends and family, throw outrageous tantrums, and expect everyone to still treat them as delicate flower princesses because they are the bride. There is a stereotype about women before their wedding, and the brides on this show take it to the extreme, and it is frustrating to watch the friends and family of these women just lie down and take the nonsense that is continually thrown at them. One may watch this show and hopefully walk away from it with a more astute awareness of how they treat others in a moment of stress.
Reality TV has made fame available to a vast number of people who never stood a chance of receiving the limelight before. Just look at the diverse shows: if you are a terror before your wedding, you could be on Bridezillas, if you are a pregnant sixteen year-old, you could be on Teen Mom, if you are daring enough to eat a vat of scorpions, you could be on fear-factor. These circumstantial things that require no talent whatsoever could land you fifteen minutes in the spotlight. The impact of this is a rising number of pseudo-stars that make the up-and-coming pseudo-stars push reality further and further away to keep television interesting.