Table of Contents
Reality TV Has a Positive Influence on Society
James Poniewozik, a media and television columnist for Time magazine, was the media critic and media section editor for the online magazine Salon.com. He has also contributed to such publications as Fortune, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times Book Review.
Summary: Viewers are tired of seeing bland sitcoms and family dramas on network television and have turned to reality TV for entertainment. Although there are some valid moral objections to reality TV—for example, there is deception involved in Joe Millionaire— mostly reality TV is quality satire. Indeed, it ridicules some of the most honored American values like team spirit over individual glorification (Survivor) and marrying for love rather than money (Joe Millionaire). Further, while many believe that reality TV is harmful because contestants wind up humiliated, in fact, most of the participants are good humored about their failings, which can inspire average Americans to pursue their own dreams. Reality TV benefits society because it teaches that there is nothing more American than to pursue dreams and work for individual improvement.
For eight single professional women gathered in Dallas, it is holy Wednesday—the night each week that they gather in one of their homes for the Traveling Bachelorette Party. Munching snacks and passing a bottle of wine, they cheer, cry and cackle as their spiritual leader,...
(The entire section is 2358 words.)
Reality TV Is More than a Fad
Tom Long is a reporter for the Detroit News.
Summary: Fads are defined by their ability to attract universal attention—to give diverse people something in common—if only for a short time. America’s culture and lifestyle provide the income and leisure time needed to support the development of fads. Moreover, the United States has the complex media mix—television, radio, Internet, movies, newspapers, books, and magazines—required to create fads. While most fads enjoy only brief popularity, reality TV has made a seemingly permanent place for itself in the twenty-first-century American television mix. With its ability to hold the attention of millions of television viewers for several seasons in a row, reality TV is showing itself to be more than a fad.
Tammy Endicott of Ypsilanti [Michigan] has a typically fad-filled life. Her 9-year-old son, Dustin, collects Pokémon cards. She is getting ready to wallpaper the bedroom of her 3-year-old daughter, Samantha, in Power Puff Girls wallpaper. Both of their rooms have cabinets filled with Beanie Babies.
And on Wednesday night, when she wants to relax, Endicott, 29, tunes in to the reality-TV show Temptation Island.
“We all talk about it here at work,” the medical receptionist says. “I think it’s exciting.”
Reality TV shows are the hot fad right now. The original Survivor hooked millions...
(The entire section is 918 words.)
The Terrorist Attacks on America Diminished the Popularity of Reality TV
Kim Campbell is a staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor.
Summary: Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America, people find watching reality TV too stressful and are therefore turning to sitcoms and comedies for entertainment. They are uneasy with the conflicts and unpleasant competition portrayed in reality shows and want to watch programs containing less anger and danger.
When Americans go home at night now, they are looking for comfort— especially in the form of their favorite TV shows.
Forget about new fall  programs and reality series. The equivalent of tomato soup to viewers right now is the predictable haplessness of “Raymond” [a popular sitcom] and the question of paternity for Rachel’s baby on “Friends” [a popular sitcom].
Uneasy with the news of the day, people want programs in which conflicts are resolved in an hour and the next joke is only a commercial away. They prefer story lines that don’t incorporate the [September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks] and some even draw the line at anything dark.
“I don’t even want to watch ‘ER’ [a hospital emergency room drama] anymore,” says Kathy Kennedy, a 20-something who works in Boston and prefers sitcom “Will & Grace.” “Anything that’s sad or dramatic . . . it seems too much of a reality.”
In recent weeks, shows that once landed...
(The entire section is 678 words.)
The Ultimate Reality TV Show: Coverage on the War in Iraq
Michiko Kakutani is a Pulitzer Prize–winning book critic for the New York Times.
Summary: Network producers have turned real-time reporting of the 2003 war in Iraq into prime-time reality TV entertainment. Rather than presenting the real horror of the war, newscasters are discussing the conflict as though it were a movie. Producers are engaging in willful sensationalism and sentimentality in an effort to keep viewers from changing channels or not watching at all.
Adecade or so after the Vietnam War ended, in the wake of a legion of Vietnam movies, some veterans put bumper stickers on their cars that read, “Vietnam was a war, not a movie.” They did not want people to forget the losses that they and their comrades had sustained during the war. They did not want people to relegate their memories of that bloody and divisive war to flickering images on the silver screen.
With the new engagement in Iraq, however, the Pentagon and television news coverage are blurring the lines between movies and real life as never before, turning viewers into 24-hour couch voyeurs.
In the opening days of the war the focus on television was almost entirely on the fireworks spectacle of the American air attack on Baghdad . . . and on heroic and often unrepresentative images that deliberately recalled photographs and famous cinematic sequences: soldiers planting an American flag in Iraq with...
(The entire section is 1101 words.)
Fascination with Fame Attracts Reality TV Viewers
Steven Reiss is a professor and James Wiltz is a doctoral candidate at Ohio State University.
Summary: Reality TV viewers do not watch the shows so they can talk about them with their friends. Nor is it true that those who watch reality TV are less intelligent than those who do not or that viewers watch hoping to see illicit sex. Devoted reality TV watchers enjoy the competitive aspect of the shows—the concept that there are winners and losers. But the most significant reason that reality TV is popular with such a wide variety of viewers is that Americans identify with the desire to be famous. Even if the fame is touched with infamy—contestants are not always shown in a favorable light—viewers believe that being watched by millions means that the participants are important.
Even if you don’t watch reality television, it’s becoming increasingly hard to avoid. The salacious Temptation Island was featured on the cover of People magazine. Big Brother aired five days a week and could be viewed on the Web 24 hours a day. And the Survivor finale dominated the front page of the New York Post after gaining ratings that rivaled those of the Super Bowl.
Is the popularity of shows such as Survivor, Big Brother and Temptation Island a sign that the country has degenerated into a nation of voyeurs? Americans seem hooked on so-called reality...
(The entire section is 971 words.)
Reality TV Exploits Fame Seekers
Rochelle Riley is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.
Summary: Reality TV has proven that people will do just about anything to be on television and be made famous, even if it is only for a few minutes. However, people who are made “famous” by having their most intimate conversations overheard by millions of TV viewers stand to lose more than just their privacy—they have surrendered their self-respect as well.
It is painfully obvious, based on the general direction of American television, that the most coveted thing in America truly is that elusive 15 minutes of fame we all grow up wanting, and, as lore holds, we are due at some time.
There’s the current crop of TV shows based on fear and stamina and a bachelor and bachelorette looking for love in all the wrong places (in front of millions); there’s the public heartbreak of auditioning for a mad Englishman just so he can tell you the obvious, that you can’t sing, all to become an “American Idol.” And then, there’s ABC Family’s “The Last Resort,” last year’s  miniseries that comes back this year  as a full-blown series. Nine couples will go into seclusion in beautiful Hawaii and decide whether to make up or break up (with millions watching).
The couples are required to devote seven days to the taping. Here’s hoping the show doesn’t last seven seasons.
It has finally...
(The entire section is 704 words.)
Reality TV Participants Enjoy Fame and Success After the Show Is Over
Jonathan Storm is a columnist and TV critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Many past participants in reality TV shows find that fame follows them after the shows are over. Some contestants are able to stay in show business and find jobs hosting various programs on cable channels. Many are well paid for personal appearances or have been hired to host local TV or radio shows while other reality TV personalities use their fame to do charitable work. However, the majority of reality TV veterans know their fame cannot last forever and realize that they will have to go back to reality someday. Things aren’t working out for “Survivor” veteran Jenna Lewis in her new office job.
“You’re really weird,” her boss explains as he fires her. “The show is over. You don’t need a camera crew following you around.”
“But I like it,” she whimpers.
It’s a scene from “Survivin’ the Island,” a hilarious short film starring Lewis, the ninth person voted off the island in the original “Survivor,” as herself. (You can catch it at www.ifilm.com.) As with all good satire, it underlines reality.
It’s also the first film that satirizes an unseen component of reality TV. Contestants who have traveled to the ends of the Earth to reveal their inner selves to millions of strangers are discovering that life after reality can be one strange trip.
“We really had no idea,” Lewis said in a phone...
(The entire section is 1621 words.)
Reality TV Can Offer a Positive Religious Message
Jill Terreri is a reporter for the Niagara Gazette, which is published in Niagara Falls, New York.
Summary: The immorality and negativity of conventional reality TV can be countered by the religious reality show TruthQuest. Positive Christian virtues such as friendship, trust, faith, and hope are emphasized in the show as a vehicle for enjoying life and having fun as well as doing good work. While most reality TV shows are popular because they offer viewers a chance to see participants in compromising situations, TruthQuest depends on the drama created by Christian teenagers who proselytize in areas where they are not welcome.
A group of teenage missionaries will be featured in a new “reality” television show that turns the tables on the genre. “TruthQuest: California,” which will be shown beginning Oct. 3  on FamilyNet Television, a cable Christian television station reaching 34 million homes, thinks its good clean Christian fun can succeed. Others doubt it.
Richard Sparkman is only 14, but he has already worked as a missionary. [In 2001] he visited New Orleans with his Franklin, Tennessee, church’s drama troupe to spread the gospel by performing skits.
But [in 2002], his family will be able to keep a close eye on Sparkman as he evangelizes with other teenagers along California’s coast. Sparkman, an eighth-grader at Freedom Middle...
(The entire section is 995 words.)
Some Reality TV Shows Encourage Cooperation
John Kiesewetter is a TV and radio critic for the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Summary: Most reality TV shows emphasize competition and divisiveness and make a mockery of teamwork and cooperation. However, a reality show reenacting the 1770 voyage of Captain James Cook from Australia to Jakarta, Indonesia, using forty volunteer sailors, proves that reality TV can encourage positive virtues such as cooperation, helpfulness, and selflessness. The grueling thirty-five-hundred-mile journey aboard a replica of Cook’s eighteenth-century ship required that crew members work effectively with each other at all times—the verbal abuse common in other reality TV series would have made the level of cooperation necessary aboard the ship impossible. Instead of working against one another to win an individual prize, crew members learned to work together to reach the common goal of a successfully completed voyage.
ACarnival cruise it wasn’t. There was no hanky-panky for these TV shipmates.
Forty volunteers sailed from Australia aboard a replica of Capt. James Cook’s Endeavour, to experience six weeks on an 18th century sea voyage.
The History Channel calls this co-production with the BBC a “history adventure reality series.”
“The Ship” . . . is a little “Frontier House,” a little “Survivor” and a lot of hard work.
“The physical labor was...
(The entire section is 899 words.)
Reality TV Encourages Racial Stereotyping
Cary Darling is an entertainment writer for the Miami Herald.
Summary: The portrayal of black men on reality TV is stereotypically racist. Black men are shown as either angry and violent, lazy and stupid, or sexually aggressive and dominating. Reality TV shows do not show a wide spectrum of black men—educated, uneducated, athletic, quiet, or politically active—but depend on a few predominately unpleasant types for representation. Further, there is rarely more than one black male participant at a time on a reality show, no matter how many races are represented. Due to the pervasive nature of racism in America, producers of reality TV shows may not even be aware that they are seeking stereotypes when they choose black male participants. However, that is no excuse for allowing racial stereotyping to continue.
The explosion of so-called reality TV this summer  has America buzzing about issues of avarice, privacy and the tantalizing taste of rat-fried rice. But these new shows also highlight a dilemma that has long stalked the genre. The title of a recent Internet bulletin board post summed it up best in one line of mock incredulity: “What’s Up with the Black Guys?”
The note, posted by someone named Imelda on www.realworldblows. com, bemoaned the image portrayed of young black men on highly rated shows like “Survivor” (a group of people thrown together on a deserted island,...
(The entire section is 1939 words.)
Reality TV Is a Dangerous Art Form
Ben Alexander is a New York playwright and the author of Jocelyn, a play about a young woman contestant on a reality-based TV show.
Summary: Reality TV is a dangerous mix of fantasy and reality. In fictionalized drama, real people do not get hurt, but in reality TV shows, despite the fantasy situations, participants—real people—can get hurt. What is worse, as viewers grow bored with the genre, the stakes will need to be raised. Reality TV participants will have to be put in increasingly greater physical and emotional peril in order for viewers to stay interested.
Two women meet. They come from sharply contrasting backgrounds, there’s an age difference, and the setting isn’t quite conducive to forming intimate bonds; still, they bond. They find themselves becoming close friends, sharing much with each other and feeling increasingly connected. Yet, in the situation that has brought them together, as well as in their own individual characters, lurk the seeds of their friendship’s destruction. The younger woman presently makes a choice which, though it makes sense toward achieving her cherished goal, totally offends and infuriates the other, and a warm relationship is swiftly replaced by bitterness and hurt.
Thus, before the audience, unfolds the drama in the play “Collected Stories,” by contemporary American dramatist Donald Margulies. The audience sees a young...
(The entire section is 2063 words.)
Reality TV Violates the Public Trust
John C. Dvorak is a contributing editor for PC Magazine. His work appears in several magazines and newspapers, including Boardwatch, Computer Shopper, and MicroTimes, and he is the author of several books on computers, including Dvorak’s Guide to Telecommunications.
Summary: The public was led to believe that the reality TV series Joe Millionaire was a legitimate documentary. Television advertising and newspaper articles insisted that the show was real—unrehearsed and unscripted. Only the Internet hinted at the truth, suggesting that Joe was not who he claimed to be and that women on the show were actresses. When it was revealed that the show was actually a hoax and that Joe was not a millionaire but a construction worker, the public trust was violated to a degree that demanded Congressional investigation. If Joe Millionaire or any other reality TV show is scripted or prearranged in any way, Congress should investigate it as it investigated rigged game shows in the 1950s. The public trust is at stake and should not be violated for the sake of ratings.
Has the Internet become the only way we can get a glimpse at facts? I think so more and more, despite all the hoaxes and fakery there. On the Net, at least you have a shot at finding out the truth.
My journey into the vagaries of truth begins with the Fox reality TV show, “Joe Millionaire.” This is a show...
(The entire section is 1615 words.)
Reality TV Helps Young People Learn About Life
Kimberly Shearer Palmer is a graduate student at the University of Chicago.
Summary: Young people find reality TV instructive as well as entertaining. They learn about dating, relating to their families, and dealing with sensitive issues such as AIDS, cancer, and mental illness by watching the way reality TV show participants deal with these crises. Because reality TV is unscripted and unrehearsed, the situations portrayed reveal true feelings and the realistic consequences of actions—good and bad.
Our obsession began with weekly dinners at which we would scrutinize the eligible men on ABC’s The Bachelorette. My twentysomething friends and I debated which man would best suit our own needs as well as Trista’s [participant on Bachelorette]. After celebrating her final choice, we thought we needed a new evening activity. We were wrong. Despite the relative lack of emotional depth of Fox’s Married by America, we’ve already picked out our favorite and least-favorite candidates.
Critics of reality shows aren’t wooed as easily. Some psychologists have even argued that programs such as ABC’s Are You Hot?? contribute to eating disorders. But reality TV also comes with a slew of benefits. Just as our parents watched American Bandstand to learn how to dance, we snuggle up to today’s reality shows because they give us a sense of how people date,...
(The entire section is 750 words.)
Teenagers Identify with the Issues Presented in Reality TV Shows
David Hiltbrand is an entertainment writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Summary: Teenagers prefer to watch reality TV shows because they are attracted to the relatively short duration of reality TV series. Further, reality TV shows often deal with relationships and rejection, two issues with which teenagers typically identify. Teens’ preference for reality TV has led networks to shift their programming in that direction since advertisers—particularly those in certain product categories such as movies, soft drinks, and cosmetics—prize youthful viewers. Networks now realize that teenage viewers are trendsetters, and that the programs they like often turn out to be the most successful.
If your television could talk, it might fill you in on the real generation gap in this country—the gulf between what teenagers like on TV and what everyone else is watching.
An analysis of ratings information for the current TV season shows that teens have distinctive viewing habits. In fact, 14 of the top 25 shows among 12- to 17-year-olds are nowhere to be found among the top 25 shows for all viewers. Nearly half of the most popular teen shows air on Fox.
And the epidemic of reality programming? To a great extent, you can blame it on teens. They can’t get enough of the tawdry stuff. Shows such as “American Idol” are helping arrest a precipitous decline in network ratings among...
(The entire section is 1657 words.)
Reality TV Encourages Young People to Develop Eating Disorders
Sid Kirchheimer is a health and medical writer and editor. He has written or edited thirteen books, including The Doctors Book of Home Remedies II, and has served as an editorial director for InteliHealth.com and as editor in chief for two websites serving ophthalmic professionals.
Summary: Reality TV series that emphasize physical beauty, such as ABC’s Are You Hot?, present unrealistic expectations that may put young viewers, especially teenage girls, in jeopardy. Their message is that only thin women are beautiful, which can encourage emotionally vulnerable teens to develop eating disorders. Parents must be aware of what their teenagers are watching on television so that they can help them develop a healthy self-image independent of media hype.
First there were The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and Joe Millionaire—shows that seemingly ignore the necessities for matrimonial bliss in exchange for Nielsen ratings—and quite successfully. Now new concerns are emerging over one of the latest “reality” television shows and potential eating disorders.
In Are You Hot? The Search for America’s Sexiest People, a parade of eye candy displays well-sculptured pecs and perky breasts before celebrity judges, who then detail the contestants’ not-so-apparent physical flaws. Entertaining perhaps, but some say this ABC show hits at the emotional...
(The entire section is 845 words.)
Young Women Learn Harmful Gender Stereotypes from Reality TV
Susan J. Douglas is a contributing editor for In These Times, a national news and opinion magazine.
Summary: Feminists, male and female, find reality TV shows such as The Bachelor repulsive because they embody the patriarchal concept that men define womanhood. For example, the woman the bachelor finally chooses from a field of twenty-five contestants supposedly represents the ideal female to viewers, most of whom are young women. Typically, the women viewers identify with and root for their favorite contestant. They hope that the bachelor likes her too, and his choice validates their concept of womanhood. Whether the bachelor agrees with them or not, it is his choice—not theirs—that determines what kind of femininity ensures survival in a world run by men. Thus, reality TV shows such as The Bachelor help perpetuate patriarchy.
Any feminist, female or male, who has seen ABC’s The Bachelor was repulsed. For those who have missed this fine media offering, a carefully selected lunk of a guy—in the most recent case, Aaron—is presented with a harem of 25 also carefully selected young women, all slim, all conventionally pretty and most blonde.
After sampling all the wares, he rejects them one by one until he has chosen the one he likes best. It’s not unlike a 4-H competition of prize heifers, except the women weigh less and get to go to fancy resorts. Nor is...
(The entire section is 1097 words.)
Korea Takes a Dim View of Reality TV
The Korea Herald is one of the leading English-language dailies in Asia. The newspaper carries selected news and opinion pieces as well as science stories from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post. It also has a news exchange agreement with the Japan Times and the China Daily.
Summary: Reality TV is not yet well accepted in Korea. Because Koreans emphasize family ties rather than independence, they are not as interested in watching the details of individual lives as are Americans, who value individualism. Further, state censorship, a morality standard based on Confucianism, tight network budgets, and a lack of familiarity with this very Western genre are all barriers to Koreans’ acceptance of reality TV. Ethical broadcasting standards and a Korean law that prohibits airing details about other people’s lives without their consent also make it difficult to broadcast reality TV shows in Korea.
Reality TV is marauding the West, infiltrating Asia and hitting a brick wall in Korea. In the face of censorship, Confucianism, crippling budgets and collective unfamiliarity with the not-so-new genre, Korean producers from the nation’s three terrestrial Goliaths, KBS, SBS and MBC, indicate that there is at present neither a niche nor timetable for “those kind of shows.”
Those kinds of shows tend to be restricted to Cable. Fox’s “Joe Millionaire” rides on the...
(The entire section is 937 words.)