Friday, November 26, 2010

How Reality Television Affects our Society

One of today’s most popular genres on television is reality shows. Viewers feel they can connect with these normal people placed in various situations. Viewers, such as small children, teenagers and non-Americans, can learn about our culture by watching these reality shows. These are the typical views Americans have of reality television, but when you truly look at the content of theses shows do you still have the same viewpoints? Is reality television how you want your society to be identified or what you want to be compared to? Do you want your child to learn about our society based on the content of American reality shows? After analyzing and researching some popular reality television shows I have found just how much reality television is affecting our society.

This is the true story... of eight strangers... picked to live in a together and have their lives taped... to find out what happens... when people stop being polite... and start getting real...The Real World.” These are the opening lines to the popular reality

television show “The Real World”. Viewers are taken on a journey through the few weeks these eight strangers have to live together. Their time together usually consists of fighting, drinking, sex,drugs and inappropriate behavior. If this is “real” then I don’t want to be involved with any part of it. Lovetoknow.comstates, “the same sexist and sick behavior seen on popular reality TV shows such as MTV’s ‘The Real World’ and ‘The Bachelor’ can also be found on mainstream dramas like ‘The Sopranos’, only there it's referred to as ‘nuanced storytelling’.” Since the genre of these television shows is reality television, viewers take this “sexist and sick behavior” as something that is socially acceptable. If you see it on television you can do it in real life right? This perception of reality can be explained through Cultivation Theory.

Developed by George Gerbner, Cultivation Theory states that television shapes our perception of reality. For example, if we watch a lot of shows with violence, then we perceive our world as more violent than it actually is. Assuming Cultivation Theory, small children and teenagers watching reality television will accept everything in the show as socially acceptable. Those who are un-American and watch these reality shows will also have the perception that this is what America is really like. Personally, I would be horrified if my child thought it would be acceptable to casually have sex with anyone, swear as often as possible and constantly be in a drunken state. I also find it awful that other cultures view our society with this perception. Below is a video warning of the "realities" portrayed on television.

What most people don’t realize is these “reality shows” don’t contain much reality. They are like all other television shows in the fact that they are created on the basis of making a profit. This leads the producers to do anything and everything to attract viewers. They will tweak this “reality” for better ratings. According to Mark Burnett, creator of the reality show “Survivor”, “it’s all about economics and commerce” ( Burnett also admitted “what goes on during ‘Survivor’ is ‘completely contrived.’ It is obvious when one thinks it through. The situations in which the contestants find themselves in are invented, and the ever-present camera influences the actions and decisions of every contestant.” Through my research I also found that certain characters to fill stereotypes are always present. As much as we try to void the authenticity of stereotypes, they are placedwithin these shows for viewers to find a connection with the characters. Sadly, the viewers are buying it.

The popular reality show, “The Hills”, is a perfect example of having little reality within the show. This show was a spin off series from the reality show “Laguna Beach”. “The Hills” began with a cast that viewers were already familiar with. As the show progressed, new characters were introduced, including a stereotypical Hispanic character and more “dumb ditzy blondes”. Viewers watched for the drama and idolized the characters' wealth and popularity. Speculations that the show was scripted surfaced and were finally confirmed on the show’s finale. The last scene shows two of the characters in front of the famous Hollywood sign saying their goodbyes. As the car drives away the viewers see the backdrop being carried away and the lot of the movie studio appearing. The YouTube video below shows the last scene from this finale (the volume needs to be turned up to maximum to hear it.)

The women characters of “The Hills” were always shown in some sort of conflict with one another. A viewer would deem a show of good quality if one of the characters fulfilled their mission to seek revenge on another character. One aspect of Cultivation Theory is Mean World Syndrome. Mean World Syndrome is when someone finds their world more violent than it really is after watching a lot of violent television. Mean World Syndrome can apply to “The Hills” in the fact that a teenage girl may become scared that her friends are always out to backstab her.If all of the girls on “The Hills” are backstabbing each other, why wouldn’t her friends be doing it to her? These reality shows unknowingly can cause someone to think that their world is more violent and cruel than it truly is.

So why do we continue to watch these programs that falsely claim to be reality? conducted a survey of 239 people using the Reiss Profile. The Reiss Profile is a profile of 16 basic desires and values. According to, “Each reality show portrays and fulfills certain desires- like power or influence, travel and living, survival and outwitting, beauty and satisfaction, revenge and honor, etc.” The survey found the most popular reasons viewers watch reality television are to watch scenes of illicit sex, competitive nature and revenge. Viewers also watch reality television based on their desire for status or admire the fact that by being on reality shows they could in fact be the next celebrity. Based on these findings, viewers seem to watch reality television based on unmoral temptations. If this is the reason people are watching these shows, then these shows must be filled with a multitude of unmoral behavior. The fact that this is on television creates the image for viewers that this unmoral behavior is acceptable. Children and teenagers will start to acquire these morals and will engage in similar situations presented on the show. From my research, I have found that the most offensive and reoccurring actions in reality television are inappropriate or indecent acts. Therefore, parents need to play an active role in their child’s television viewing and need to explain the differences between good and bad. Let’s hope the reasons viewers watch these shows is to be their guilty pleasure and not because these are their true morals.

Throughout my research of reality television shows I have yet to come across evidence of a positive affect from these shows on society. These reality television shows convey negative morals to viewers who may not be able to distinguish between good and bad. They are not a reflection of our society, rather a form of entertainment. Without supervision of children’s viewership of these shows, they may come to believe this is the reality of our society and may engage in its actions. While they may be fun to watch, one must keep in mind how much “reality” these reality shows actually contain. Below are the content analysis I conducted for the popular reality television shows "The Hills" and "The Real World: New Orleans."

Negative Connotations of the Reality Show "The Hills"




The characters are always shown shopping or taking lavish vacations.

“Justin just grabbed my butt.”

They are only concerned about themselves and are constantly back stabbing each other.

The characters make out with random people a lot.

While taking shots and drinking one of the characters says, “I’ve never been so proud in my life.”

Skinny dipping

Dancing around the pool in bathing suits.

The characters Kristin and Brody are shown as casually having sex.

Negative Connotations found in the Reality Show "The Real World: New Orleans"




Some of the show’s characters are a gay black male who has his walls up, a regular black male, country girl, Muslim girl with no opportunities back home, white male jock and a beach bum.

“We are going to party so hard, it will be the death of me.”

One character states, “I hope this girl is a bombshell.”

“I feel like she is going to pull out all of the southern clich├ęs.”

“…raunchy parade where they throw penises.” “You had me at throwing penises.”

“She is definitely a girl I would hook up with.”

The characters of the show claim men can’t be sentimental and if they are then they are “insane.”

“You guys touch me and I feel like killing myself” This is one character referring to gay men.

Below is a presentation I created of the negative features of reality television. Click the play arrow to start and click it after each slide to move to the next one.