How real is reality tv?
The Oxford Dictionary defines reality television as “television shows that are based on real people (not actors) in real situations, presented as entertainment”. This definition is a simplistic one, and is made up of two main ideas; that it’s based on ‘real’ people and that these people are in ‘real’ situations. However, reality television does provide a distorted view of reality (Barton, 2007). Though the people may be ‘real’, for example in a show such as ‘Project Runway’, the challenges and situations are pre-prepared. Alternatively, in a show such as ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’, the situations might be ‘real’ to them, but it is debatable whether they are being truly genuine, or even whether they can be called ‘real’ as the Kardashians are celebrities. Trottier (2006) defines reality television by giving it characteristics such as it being unscripted, starring real people, having producer involvement and it being spontaneous.
Some people do still believe that reality television reflects real life. In shows such as ‘Big Brother’ or ‘Survivor’, part of the appeal for the audience is seeing people for who they are. Being in stressful conditions, such as being trapped in a house with strangers or living off the land, can bring out strong emotions in people, causing their so-called ‘mask’ to slip. These may be real emotions, but the question is whether these emotions fully reflect them for who they are in reality, or simply whether their emotions are out of control due to their conditions.
Some reality shows are perhaps more real than others. For example, the game shows sub-genre are less about contestants and more about the game format or general knowledge. Cop shows do show real cases and arrests, however the producers of these shows pick and choose specific cases, that are interesting to watch from a viewer’s perspective. So although the situations are real, it may not be realistic in terms of portraying the average policemen’s job position.
I personally believe the reality television rests somewhere in the middle, between reality and fiction. This isn’t always a bad thing, in fact audiences prefer this in many ways. If a reality show involved everyday people doing everyday things acting like every other person, reality television would be less interesting to audiences. Reality television is a genre that most adults would agree is not particually “real”. However, a smart producer knows how to truly invest audiences in a television personality. Highlighting particular traits in particular people can create strong feelings in audiences. So although people understand that reality television is not truly a reflection of “reality”, the fact that the people in these shows are “real” to an extent can heighten emotions in audiences, causing their perception of reality television to shift.
Andrejevic, M (2006) How real is reality TV? Essays on representation and truth. McFarland And Company Inc Publishers
Barton, K (2007). The mean world effects of reality television: perceptions of antisocial behaviors resulting from exposure. The Florida State University College Of Communication.
Mapp, C (2014) Reality Television: Oddities of Culture. Lexington Books