How does reality television have a negative impact on the viewers' perception of reality?

11 Answers

scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Another significant negative impact of watching reality television is that viewers allow someone else to determine "reality" for them. Orwell depicts this danger in 1984 in which humans have begun to believe everything that is depicted on the large telescreens. While 1984 is fictional and was written over 60 years ago, it portrays humanity's seemingly natural tendency to be easily swayed by what they "see." History has shown that when a mass of people can be easily controlled by a single person or a small group, the results are disastrous.

Secondly, reality television and those who produce it should cause us to consider the ethics of the process. Is it ethical to exploit someone's divorce, incarceration, and teenage pregnancy for entertainment's sake? Some justify the airing of these events in humans' lives by claiming that the subjects of the shows agree to be filmed and that they are compensated for their "stories," but what does is it say about the producers and viewers who are willing to make a profit or be entertained by someone else's pain, immaturity, or poor choices?

For excellent satire of the phenomenon of reality TV's popularity, you should watch the film The Truman Show (if you haven't already done so).

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When people watch reality TV, they tend to think that what they are seeing is a true depiction of reality.  Because of that, they tend to believe that what they see on TV is how life really is.

This is problematic because reality TV, of course, is not exactly just real life on camera.  Instead, the shows are edited to make them more interesting and exciting.  What this tends to mean is that they get edited to include more conflict, more danger, more of things that you could call negative.  When viewers watch this sort of show, they believe that reality is like that -- that reality is typically full of conflict and other negative events.

Therefore, when people watch reality TV, they can end up having a more negative perception of real life than is actually warranted.

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besure77 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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"Reality" television is not really reality. Unfortunately, many people think that it is. Reality television draws millions of viewers because it is entertaining. If it was not entertaining then people would not watch. With this being said, I believe that reality television has a negative effect on those who truly believe what the are watching is real. The viewer may see exciting things happening to people in these shows and then compare those things that are happening to their "normal" lives.


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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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The disturbing thing is that while these shows are touted as reality, there is very little realism to them. Scenes are shot and shot again for better effect. Editing is performed to get the best angles and sound bites. Actors participating in these shows are frequently urged to act as outrageously as possible for ratings. This gives not only a warped sense of reality, but it mutates the understanding of what is socially acceptable for those impressionable minds viewing the show.

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clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I'm going to speak to the desensitization that happens as a result of the media taking anything and over emphasizing it in the name of entertainment.  Reality TV (and therefore MTV) might be singly responsible for starting the downward spiral of appropriateness on TV.  Perhaps the thought is that if people are doing these things in "real life" why can't they be fictionalized, dramatized, made fun of, or exaggerated on non-reality TV?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As if people are not passive enough, they now can experience vicariously all the "drama" of dating, marrying, and other interpersonal relationships as well as searching for a house, learning new things, etc. without exerting any energy or without threatening one's own inner safety.  Or worse yet, they can assimilate these behaviors from the reality shows and imitate them in their own relationships so that they, too, can become dysfunctional.

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think most people that watch reality television realize that the reality is limited. Although there are some shows that are more realistic than others, all of them are edited. Reality is not pretty. In some cases, reality shows exaggerate that and some hide it.
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lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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I would agree with the above post in that "reality television" gives some people a false perception of what is actually real. There are some people that believe all that they see and expect their lives to be similar to what they see on television.

User Comments

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jess1999 | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Mist reality television is scripted and makes it seem like so many unbelievable things happen yet it's planned. It makes has a negative impact because it'll make people think that these thing s will actually happen in real life. Actually sometimes it's reality as it says in the name but most of the time it's not.

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alysha_w13 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

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Reality TV is what people believe to be exactly like real life but what you can watch but if that were true then they wouldn't be very popular as we would be living as opposed to watching reality tv. These shows cut out a lot of what actually is real and fit it into an hour long slot. Not only that but those who have reality shows are generally people who aren't regular people or have some strange and interesting situation in their lives such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians and 16 and Pregnant. Despite this, it still tricks us into believing that this is what our lives should be like, especially the young and impressionable, so we react to situations differently as our instincts adapt to what society is telling us through these programs almost to believe that what we're doing is the normal thing when it could be very unhealthy such as drinking/smoking or how we behave in romantic relationships. Overall, reality television is tainting the world that we live in.

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jojo56 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

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I find reality shows very disturbing. I don't enjoy the overt or implicit violence and I am disgusted at how tightly the director's control what we see.

On a larger scale, they do seem to be in keeping with the US's history of entertainment during rough economic times. In many ways, reality shows remind me of the old film, "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"