Week 11 Question

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

Week 11: Brendan O’Neill

How real is reality tv?

Discounting a significant amount of asterixis, you could say that reality tv is real. Ultimately though, the reality that gets presented to the audience has been through several layers of artificiality that result in a highly questionable product in terms of authenticity. People are interested in watching conflict, and people find conflict to be far more interesting when it is real, reality tv then seems like the perfect storm of real conflicts and drama that is uncomplicated and easy to understand and therefore consume. The way in which this reality is brought to the screen is what ultimately makes reality tv unreal. According to Hill (2005), “reality TV Is a range of popular factual programming”, the term factual implies that there are no scripts, no second takes, and only a small amount of editing, these are claims that many reality tv shows make that we are going to look into. 

The first suspicious claim is that reality tv only has a small amount of editing. Reality tv has turned manipulation of reality through editing into an artform, there are a number of ways that editing is used to present a false reality to the audience. A common convention of reality tv is the confession cam, where a contestant stares at a camera and talks about their feelings or opinions. The editors will only pick the quotes from the contestants that leave the strongest impression or may be the most controversial statement. Editors will go as far as mixing up different things the contestants say to form sentences that the contestant never said. Editors also pick scenes that will highlight the relationships of contestants in however way they want that relationship to be seen by the audience. Editing doesn’t necessarily create a lie, but sometimes it makes the truth more apparent then it should be or less nuanced than it really is.

The claim that there are no scripts may be true, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t staged. Although not all events are staged, it’s exceedingly difficult to believe that several vitally important things happen to these people in the span of a week, and the no second take claim is the one that is most false, even compared to the low editing claim. 

The use of editing and staged incidents in reality tv does hurt its authenticity considerably, but what makes RT unreal in my opinion is how it is set up, and what I mean by that is the contestants themselves. Reality tv casting is one of the most calculated processes in any entertainment medium. The contestants are picked to fit specific character archetypes, and are picked as antithetical counterparts to other contestants. These contestants are also incentivised to act in a disagreeable or extreme matter. Love or hate, if the audience feels strongly about you there is an incentive for the showrunners to keep you on longer, and since there is usually some form of reward for ‘winning’ the show, that is often the most important thing to the contestant. 

To conclude the very premise of reality tv is often false and reality tv is almost never entirely real. 

Kilborn, R. (1994). How real can you get?: Recent developments in ‘reality’ television. European Journal of Communication 9.  

DOI: 10.1177/0267323194009004003

Week 11: Reality TV by Rachel Banks

Q1. How real is reality tv?

Realty TV currently contains numerous subgenres. Gone are the days of hand held footage of behind the scenes action, documentary style, of law and order professionals or capturing the goings on in a busy hospital emergency department. These styles of filming are edited and made into stories with whatever footage became available at the time… The Real story.

Now, Reality TV is produced, scripted, planned and sold to sponsors before the people who are going to appear on screen stand in front of a camera. I have personally worked on a few Reality TV shows, X-Factor NZ, Dancing With The Stars, Finding Aroha, The Block x2, Hunt With Me and Married at First Sight. I’ve been on set, I’ve seen the way in which the stylists choose to portray a persona for the cast of characters. I’ve ushered in the marketing and sponsorship team to the best seats in the room. Basically I know how things work behind the scenes. Reality TV is not Real. Reality TV is contrived and planned like any other genre broadcast on the screens in our homes.

Reality Television has to make sure it can find an audience, advertisers and a broadcaster just like a documentary, journalism or drama series does. In New Zealand Mediaworks has aired a slew of Reality content one after the other both locally and internationally on TV3 and what was Four and is now Bravo. Why? Because reality Television is cheap to make, cheap to buy, and people watch it. People feel they can relate to the drama unfolding… because it could be them in the spotlight.  

What the general audience doesn’t realise is that the creators and producers are looking to fill an character or architype for each role on their Reality show. They are looking for opinionated people who will clash, create tension and cause conflict with others. Moreover they are looking for people who will perform, how they expect, when the television series throws challenges at them. They do this to sell solutions to the participants in the form on sponsors or paid partnerships. People would stop watching if everyone got along and things happened easily. It would be boring… like Real life.

Biressi, A. & Nunn, N. (2005). Real Lives, documentary approaches. In Reality TV: realism and revelation. (pp. 35-58) London: Wallflower.

Hill, A. (2005) The reality genre. In A. Hill, Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television.(pp. 14 – 40). Oxon: Routledge.

How Real Is Reality TV?

Reality TV is a genre of television that can be defined as non-fictional footage in which situations are unscripted, and based on real time situations. According to Hill (2005), page 41 “reality TV Is a range of popular factual programming”- this essentially means that it is far from orthodox scripted shows. Unscripted actors, hand held cameras and non-professional characters are really what makes reality TV so encaptivating and raw. (Hill, 2005). While highly entertaining, it is also cheaper to produce due to the lack of heavy resources required. However, the validity of the genre is often questioned as viewers tend to question whether reality TV is in fact real or not. 

In order to understand the validity of the genre, it is important to mention the roots of origin. Reality TV began in the 1990’s and created a platform ever since for reality TV as an existing genre. After the hike in popularity, the market outreach became wider and the boundaries of ‘reality tv’ was stretched. Essentially, it became a means of profitability for directors as much as entertainment goes. Kilborn (1194) states that audiences today are well aware that reality TV is but a construction and orchestration of a make belief reality that is trending. It has become very fabricated and fictionalised. Shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians and Big Boss often make viewers question the authenticity of the dramatic reactions and scenarios that occur. Kilborn (1994) argues that the viewers of reality TV have come to an understand that what they are watching on the screen is in fact a constructed, distorted reality. They are well aware that it is not an accurate or true depiction of the behaviors that occur under the given environments.

Reality TV producers have mastered the ability to use production techniques in order to manipulate the audiences, and keep them engaged. This is achieved through stimulating drama in between the ‘actors; while also making sure the given reactions are dramatic and over exaggerated. Through editing, sound effects, cinematography techniques, the incorporation of trending elements- the entire situation is dramatized and audiences are once again hooked in, not questioning the ‘reality’ of it all. Accordingly, It is safe to say that reality Tv is both reality and unreality. While there are elements of genuine reactions and events, there are also fabricated moments that are essential for the profitisation and globalisation of the genre. For this reason, it is able to maintain its standing as a lone genre amongst competitors in today’s demanding market.

Furthermore, Smith (2020) states that audiences only have access to the reality that is presented to them, yet not establishing how real that reality may be.  It is evident that despite the genre being real or not, there is an uprising and consistent demand for such shows. To argue about the standing of the genre is important however, its overwhelming popularity normally makes that an almost insignificant underlying issue, that viewers for the most part, are not too fussed, so long as they are benefiting through entertainment.


Kilborn, R. (1994). How real can you get?: Recent developments in ‘reality’ television. European Journal of Communication 1994 9: 421 DOI: 10.1177/0267323194009004003

Smith, P. (2020). ENGL602 Reality Television [PowerPoint slides]. Blackboard. https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/

Week 11

How real is Reality TV?

Reality TV as we know it today has been around since the 1940s and comes under the term factual television which is also shared with things like documentarys even though reality tv is so old it only hit its peak during the late 80s and into the 90s

in an effort to popularize the genre they hybridized it with successful genres such as soap operas and Gameshows with the start to this being the 2 different approaches the UK and US had take US taking the approach of ordinary people doing extra ordinary things while Brittan took the opposite approach Hill (2005) With the lifestyle shows they found that it wasn’t the action that mattered it was the reaction bouncing off this and adopting the formats for things such as Gameshows we got big brother and Survivor which focused on the physiological and emotional aspect while providing a prize. Reality tv is meant for us to be able to see the real life’s of people. But in reality we are only shown what provides the most reaction providing us scripted drama with sprinkles of truth. With Entertainment Weekly showing a statement from the producers of House Hunters Stating that “we go back and revisit some of the homes that the family has already seen and we capture their authentic reactions.”(Erin Strecker 2012) which shows that they aren’t really their authentic reactions and within the same article one participant claims that their story for why their moving was changed. Following suite with House Hunters E News (Piester, 2018) has a source that claims that one of the participants used their friends house as the one that they were supposedly buying. From these examples you can see that reality tv is more Entertainment value than reality, They will recast shots that were unfavorable which takes away from the authenticity of it and some are even just fabricated.”They blend fact and fiction in a way that is impossible for the viewer to decided how much is based on factual evidence”(Kilborn, 1994).


Hill, A. (2005) The rise of
reality TV. In A. Hill, Reality
TV: Audiences and
Popular Factual Television.
(pp. 15 – 40). Oxon:

Erin Strecker Updated June 12, & Strecker, E. ‘House Hunters’ scandal: Is the show a fake? EW.com. https://ew.com/article/2012/06/12/house-hunters-fake-scandal-hgtv/.

Piester, L. (2018, November 10). Real or Fake? The Truth About Some Of Your Favorite Reality TV Shows. E! Online. https://www.eonline.com/news/985791/real-or-fake-the-truth-about-some-of-your-favorite-reality-tv-shows.

Kilborn, R. (1994). `How Real Can You Get?’: Recent Developments in `Reality’ Television. European Journal of Communication, 9(4), 421–439. https://doi.org/10.1177/0267323194009004003

Question 11

How real is reality television?

Despite being regularly promoted as an unscripted or spontaneous genre of television, many still question the validity of reality television. However, before we analyse whether ‘reality’ television is an accurate depiction of real life, we first need to define what reality television is.

Reality television as a genre is distinguished for its application of “real people” in sensational situations. However, Hill (2005) elaborates by stating that reality television is “a range of popular factual programming” (p. 41) with various styles and techniques. These include non-professional actors, unscripted actors, surveillance footage, hand-held cameras and events unfolding in front of the cameras (Hill, 2005). These styles and techniques are what help reality television differentiate from other television genres. However, Kilborn (1994) argues that the term ‘reality television’ has become a “catch-all phrase” (p. 423). Kilborn (1994) elaborates that this difficulty establishing a distinct definition of reality television is due to its misuse to describe fictional genres rooted in real-life situations. Alternatively, he defines reality television as “an attempt to simulate real-life events through various forms of dramatised reconstruction” (p. 47).

Furthermore, reality television has an extensive history with documentation styles of media. Thus, it shares numerous characteristics with the genre. Smith (2020) states that “the techniques, technologies, constraints and worldviews of early cinema and television documentary makers have constructed the ways that we perceive ‘reality’ on the screen”. Characteristics of documentation and cinematic styles such as direct cinema, cinéma vérté and free cinema, can be seen implemented in the reality television genre (Smith, 2020). Consequently, by implementing many features from the genres, reality television often blurs the lines between factual and fictional media.

This blurring of fact and fiction may be the result of audience expectations. Ouellette and Murray (2004, as cited in Smith, 2020) state that audiences do not crave a faithful depiction of reality and a far more interested in “the space that exists between reality and fiction” (Smith, 2020). As a result, Kilborn (1994) states that reality television producers often feel inclined to distort or exaggerate the content they are presenting to improve overall interest in their shows. This perspective has had a significant influence on the authenticity and consequently, the popularity of reality television.

In conclusion, while reality television may orientate around genuine people or situations, the historical and modern influences on the genre make it impossible to define reality television as entirely accurate.


Hill, A. (2005) The reality genre. In A. Hill, Reality TV: Audiences and popular factual television. (pp. 14 – 40). Oxon: Routledge.

Kilborn, R. (1994). ‘How real can you get?’: Recent developments in ‘reality’ television. European Journal of Communication9, 421-439. https://doi.org/10.1177/0267323194009004003  

Smith, P. (2020). Reality television [PowerPoint Slides]. Blackboard. https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/

Week 11

How real is reality tv?

Reality television shows have skyrocketed in numbers since they were first introduced. The “unscripted” nature of these shows made them cheaper and easier to produce, leading many networks to heavily invest in the format. Scripted television attempts to replicate interaction between people, and in some cases, it can feel methodical, as each episode needs to have a plot, but RTV is able to circumvent this bu following “real”, people doing what they do on a daily basis, shows like; Police ten 7, Keeping up with the Kardashians, and even cooking shows. RTV gives the viewer a glimpse into the lives of celebrities, or people who risk their lives doing their jobs, and focuses on the personalities of these characters to base each episode on.

Reality-TV has a very diverse selection in its shows, it can go from competition/ game shows to following professionals do their daily jobs, like pawnshop owners and truckers, to “traditional”, RTV where they follow rich people living in extreme wealth. Because this genre has such a wide variety there is a show made for everyone’s specific interest. But the main point linking these shows together would be a focus on these wild and zany personalities that seem too good to be true. To even have a reality crew following you around requires a huge ego in believing you are interesting enough to have a show based on your life.  So this format of personality-driven shows means they have to deliver, when it comes to content, as the show needs interesting things to show its audience, so in many cases, they exaggerate reactions and events to make it seem important to the viewer. 

A person going on about their day to day lives honestly won’t have major and important events occur multiple times a week let alone multiple times a day. So it is obvious that producers of RTV must fabricate events in order to give the show some sort of coherent plot, like in celebrity-based RTV shows, the addition of throwing a party could add interest in a show, as further antics could be built upon this event, for example, things could fall apart at the last moment causing the host to have a meltdown and begin crying, or a rival could throw a separate party hosted at the same time, causing drama and rifts in the cast permitting for more episodes to be built on this conflict.

Many people know that RTV is, for the most part, fabricated to a degree, but still, watch the shows, as many characters have created their own dedicated fanbase, like the Kardashians. And due to their fanbase, they grow more and more famous with spin offs for different people. Reality television breaks down the privacy of certain people and broadcasts both the high and low points of people’s lives, it gives the viewer an idea of what it’s like to be rich and famous. Viewers could care less if RTV was real, they only care about their favourite personality, whom they have been “hanging out” with and following around.

Week 11: Mollie Chater

How Real is Reality Tv?

Reality tv is usually defined as non-fictional footage where actors haven’t got a script or a set of instructions to follow as the footage is shown to be real current events and a look into real life as people deal with situations and life In front of them. Reality tv comes in many forms. ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’, ‘Survivor’, ‘American Idol’ and ‘The great British Bake off’ are some of the most well know reality shows known. Reality tv shows can be drama, music, cooking, adventure, and living shows that are all classed under the same category as if they were fiction shows, which is entertainment.

Rather than relying on actors (Metz), reality tv shows rely on editors and producers to smooth out the show ready for an audience to consume. Producers and editors will show edited cuts of the footage gained, showing only what they want to be shown or what they deem to be worthy of being shown to the public. This can raise the question of how real is reality tv?

The idea that reality tv isn’t scripted gives the idea that that what is being shown is general reactions to the situations being shown, but as Ryan Stradal mentions it, “Unscripted Does Not Mean Unwritten” (Stradal, 2014).

Basically, we are being shown what we want to be shown, the storylines and character arcs and the drama that get audience views are the scenes that are given in reality tv shows. Just because what’s being shown on screen may be reality or a situation of reality, the ideas shown can warp audiences views of how to deal and process situations and life when the actors within reality shows might not be actor yet they almost always know how to act in front of a camera to be able to make themselves look good, and even on reality tv this may not be portraying the actual reality of a situation presented on the shows we watch (Grimes).

Its known that many reality shows are planned in advance, with an idea and a process to make the shows more relatable and entertainment worthy for audiences to consume. With it safe to say that reality tv isn’t completely real.


Metz, W.F. (n.d). How Reality Tv Works. HowStuffWorks. Retrieved Fromhttps://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/reality-tv.htm#

Grimes, G. (n.d). Just How Fake are Reality Tv shows? HowStuffWorks. Retrieved From https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/just-how-fake-are-reality-tv-shows.htm

Stradal, R. (2014) “Unscripted Does Not Mean Unwritten.” Writers Guild of America, West. Retrieved From http://www.wga.org/organizesub.aspx?id=1096

Week 11: Anastasia Shearer

How real is reality TV?

Reality TV as defined by Beressi and Nunn (2005) (as cited in Smith, 2020), is “[Reality TV places] an emphasis on the representation of ordinary people and allegedly unscripted or spontaneous moments that supposedly reveal unmediated reality”. Reality TV implements a diverse set of styles and techniques such as amateur actors/actresses, improvisation, and the use of hidden cameras, surveillance cameras and hand-held cameras to encapsulate the feeling that you are seeing the events unfold in real time (Hill, 2005). However, every reality TV show is different in which style and techniques they use and there is a vast array of shows to suit just about everyone’s interests. You wouldn’t say that The Kardashians were anything like the reality TV show Survivor. These shows are under strict criteria oftentimes by their audiences and what their audiences depict to be a realistic (Kilborn, 1994). Despite these differences all these reality TV shows boil down to the same thing. All of them want to claim a certain amount of authenticity on their show, as well as having the maximum entertainment factor. 

So where did reality TV really begin? Documentaries were the beginning of the reality TV phenomena, the medium was evolved by a man named John Grierson who supported the making of realist-documentary types of film. Moving on to the 1950s and technology had been majorly upgraded. This meant it was easier for filmmakers to be less intrusive whilst filming and allowed them to film in the moment which often had no objective. There is a famous rockumentary about Bob Dylan shot in this style. Cinéma Vérité was yet another style of shooting these realist-documentary types of films. Although they too used the less intrusive method they took it one step further and presented a point of view and encouraged things to happen. Furthermore, they had someone behind the camera asking the subjects questions and interacting with them that way. Free cinema which was developed in Britain in the mid-50s started to look at just average everyday people. They didn’t yet focus on just the individual people, but on the lives of common people such as people in trades. This style of reality-documentary influenced social issue dramas such as the well known television show Coronation Street (Smith 2020). 

‘Cathy Come Home’ was a groundbreaking television play as it was the first documentary type film that had been shot outside of a studio. It revolved around this young family experiencing poverty and homelessness and people had not seen anything like it before as these types of films were often reserved for current affairs (Smith, 2020). 

Looking at what reality television is like today we can understand more clearly where the medium came from and what it was influenced by. In a documentary the film makers gather a lot of footage and have to cut it down to a watchable length, their subjects are often aware of being filmed and that may have impacted upon how they acted or what they said, questions being asked in interviews can be written a certain way to try and get a certain answer. The documentary makers really had a lot of control on what they filmed, who they filmed, and what they chose to leave in their documentary. So the audience only had access to what was presented to them, and how does that relate to how real reality television is today? (Smith, 2020).    

Kilborn (1994) argues that present day audiences are far more aware that what they are watching on television is a “constructed reality” because of the advancement in technology meaning that images and footage can easily be altered to make things appear differently. Additionally, interviews with past participators have revealed the reality that a lot of reality television is placed in a very controlled environment, conversations and reactions are often filmed several times and that winners and losers are often fixed before filming begins. Despite reality TV not being real and more a constructed reality, there is still a lot of demand for these types of shows. 


Hill, A. (2005) The reality genre. In A. Hill, reality TV: Audiences and popular factual television. (pp. 14 – 40). Oxon: Routledge.  

Kilborn, R. (1994). ‘How real can you get?’: Recent developments in ‘reality’ television. European Journal of Communication, 9, 421-439. https://doi.org/10.1177/0267323194009004003  

Smith, P. (2020). ENGL602 Reality Television [PowerPoint slides]. Blackboard. https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/    

Week 11 Response – Chloe Pope

How real is reality tv?

Studies into reality television and how ‘real’ it truly is have largely come to the conclusion that although it does show aspects of ‘reality’ – people, places, and situations – these are very rarely, if at all shown as they truly are. Instead, they are edited or filmed in certain ways that allow the ‘director’, producer, filmmaker, etcetera to portray what is on screen in a specific way. Therefore, it can be said that the ‘reality’ of reality television varies – but it is never wholly ‘real’.

In ‘’How Real Can You Get?’: Recent Developments In ‘Reality’ Television’, Richard Kilborn writes, ‘There is now a general recognition that all notions of ‘realism’ are historically determined and that the criteria for judging the realism…of a text have just as much to do with the audience expectations and with a set of established conventions…for the viewer the realism of an audio-visual text depends to a large extent on how closely it conforms to the style or mode of presentation he or she has come to accept as ‘realist’’. (Kilborn, 1994) Reality television, from the outset, has drawn on established styles of presenting ‘the real’ on television and film – most notably, the documentary style. However, within reality television, these techniques can – and often are – used to manipulate the audience and change the portrayal of what is happening on screen from how it really happened.

In his essay comparing 1966 British classic ‘docudrama’ ‘Cathy Come Home’ and the 2014 British reality show ‘Benefits Street’, Ben Lamb points out how both television programs make use of the same ‘documentarian’ techniques, but have drastically different effects on the audience and how they view the disadvantaged people on display in the shows. One such technique is the use of captions, often used within documentaries to provide extra context or information that isn’t immediately available to the audience through the filmed content. In Cathy Come Home, these are used at the end of the text, where it informs the audience that the events (unemployment, homeless, child uplifting) in the drama occurred within then-current day Britain, along with statistics on homelessness in the country. This is accompanied by a shot that mirrors the opening shot of the drama, with Cathy on the side of the road hitchhiking, only this time appearing much more dishevelled and beaten down. Lamb writes of the effect of the use of captions along with the image on screen, ‘Such a visual contrast between the opening and conclusion functions to emphasise the stark downfall of her character and the accompaniment of the captions stresses the typicality of her situation…The words on screen are an essential component within these emotional scenes to demonstrate how this harrowing downfall was commonplace for many.’ (Lamb, 2016)

Captions are also used in Benefits Street, as Lamb points out, but to a much different effect from that which is seen in Cathy Come Home. These captions come in the form of subtitles dictating dialogue that has just been said on screen; although often used to make muffled or accented dialogue more coherent for viewers, as Lamb points out, this is not always the case in Benefits Street, where it is instead often used to emphasize ‘controversial’ pieces of dialogue or manipulate them to portray the speaker or situation in a certain way. This takes place in one such scene where a member of the community on the street, after buying essentials from a neighbour who goes door-to-door selling them, says ‘the government cuts are fucking up everyone’. (Lamb, 2016) This captioned dialogue is accompanied by a shot of her young son eating lollies. Otherwise perfectly audible dialogue, the effect of emphasizing this statement with captions set over the shot of her son has the effect, as Lamb writes, of focusing ‘our attention towards Becky’s bad language and lack of personal culpability for the conditions her child lives in’. (Lamb, 2016) Instead of cultivating sympathy for the disadvantaged, as Cathy Comes Home does, it instead ‘others’ the people being portrayed in Benefits Street and positions the audience against them. This is a clear example of how documentarian techniques can be used to both portray the ‘real’ on television and film, but also manipulate the ‘real’ to the point that it can have two entirely different effects on the audience watching and how they react to what they are viewing.

It is also worth noting that while the ‘reality’ of reality television, as laid out previous, is dubious at best, it can be undisputed that reality television can have very real effects. As mentioned in Lamb’s comparison of Cathy Come Home and Benefits Street, the 1966 docudrama led to nationwide support of real-life support networks for homeless people and families; the 2014 drama, on the other hand, worked to garner support for the real life ‘Big Society’ government initiative, which made welfare and benefit cuts. (Lamb, 2016) These real life effects can be seen in other, more recent reality television programs as well – from the spate of suicides effecting the cast of Love Island UK to the suicide of reality star and professional wrestler Hana Kimura after her portrayal in Japanese reality show Terrace House led to relentless cyberbullying. (Codrea-Rado, 2019) (Margolis, 2020) Regardless of how questionable the reality of what is being portrayed on the screen is, it cannot be argued that it has a very real effect on people off the screen, within the real world.


Codrea-Rado, A. (2019, June 4). ‘Love Island’ Returns Amid Debate About Contestants’ Mental Health. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/04/arts/television/love-island-mental-health.html

Kilborn, R. (1994). ‘How Real Can You Get?’: Recent Developments in ‘Reality’ Television. European Journal of Communication, 421-439.

Lamb, B. (2016). Cathy Come Off Benefits: A comparative ideological analysis of Cathy Come Home and Benefits Street. Journalism and Discourse Studies.

Margolis, E. (2020, July 17). The Fall of ‘Terrace House’. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/17/arts/television/terrace-house-suicide.html