Today we find ourselves seeking more then we have ever had before. We seek excitement and entertainment that is lacking from our own lives. This is why America sits and watches the world from inside their home. A world that the television says is real. A world that is full of excitement and pleasure. Is this and honest picture of what is really out there? Is what we see on reality television really “real?” As the world tone turns both more serious and more superficial, perhaps as people search for an avenue of escape, a new sub-genre of reality programming has emerged. We must take into consideration how “reality” television provokes our thoughts of true reality and influences our culture into unrealistic norms. These norms are ones that our youth are adapting to and accepting. Television is painting them a picture that may look beautiful, fun and exciting, but really is just a fake.
People turn to television to fill a gap that they are missing in their lives. However, our media only puts that gap there. Reality television has changed the way we watch TV forever. Stacey Lynn Koerneer, VP of broadcast research at True North Communications” TN Media, states that “It’s the one kind of programming that’s new and fresh” She goes on to say “Look at today’s TV programs vs. those of 10 or 20 years ago. Audiences no longer tune in to “lowest common denominator programming”” (Koerneer, 2001). Producers all over the country are saying these same things. They have removed shows that have good moral messages and replaced them with what they call “reality” No scripts, no acting, all real. These shows are created to get us hooked, to hold our attention. Ian Buchanan states that “Reality TV should be sufficient to alert us that it is what de Certeau calls a “black sun”, that is, something which however much it warms us and makes us feel good inside is actuality sheds no light” (Buchman, 2001).
When looking at “reality” television shows such as “Survivor” or “Big Brother” we have to understand or try to define what we think the word “reality” means. Webster defines reality as –Something that exists independently of ideas concerning it or Something that exists independently of all other things and from which all other things derive. The quality possessed by something that is real. With these definitions ask yourself if what you see on television is actually real. By placing human subjects under the never-ending surveillance of cameras, and by labeling the results reality, these shows seem edited for a viewer’s enjoyment and merely adaptations of an unreal world.
Survivor is a pioneer “reality” show. When this show was created it had viewers glued to their television sets. However, Marie-Laure Ryan says, “Survivor openly exploits its own power to create behaviors” (Ryan, 2001, p.9). What she means by this is that Survivor provokes behavior on their show. Jonathan Rauch says that “There is nothing real about putting a bunch of meticulously screen publicity hogs on an island, requiring them to engage in various contrived test, and asking them to vote on who can stay until next week” (Rauch, 2001, p.2). He goes on to say that the producers cause certain situations to happen by how they place certain people together. The contestants are chosen merely by how they will interact with each other. The producers do not want to select contestants that have things in common; this would not cause as much conflict on the show, thus altering reality. Marie goes on to state that “In a show of this type, the discrepancy between what Genette (creator of Survivor) calls narrated time and time of narration makes selective editing inevitable.” What this means is that the editors of this show are able to use the footage that is taken and mold it into something exciting and breath taking. Thus calling it reality, when really all it does is highlighting exciting parts of the show that were put there by the producers.
When I watched this show it was very easy to see this happening. The broadcast began every time with a panning of the landscape, followed by a few shots of the cast offs engaging in life sustaining activities, such as fishing, cooking, eating. Then direct comments were shown. This is where the cast a ways spoke directly into the camera telling their story of a situation etc. You can see this same set up in each episode. Edits are made to the footage of only the exciting parts, and situations are exploited when really all they were, were something small. For example, when “Survivor” was in Australia two contestants had what we thought was a crush. But really all they had was a friendship. However, the producers created a “love story” in the outback. I saw this all to many times when watching this show. Its like they were playing God. “The retrospective tampering with the data was most obvious in the tribal councils…the camera typically dwelled on the face of one of them, raising the suspicion that this contestant was going to be “it.” (Ryan, 2001, p.10). So I find it hard to label this show as “reality” when all it seems to really be is fake.
Survivor is not the only “reality” show that alters reality. Almost every single one does. When you click through the channels on your television you come across many different kinds of shows. However, I am not saying that all “reality” shows are fake. There are actual real “reality” shows out there. One good example is the show Cops. Cops allow a viewer to ride along with an officer and see them confront different criminal offenders. This show doesn’t need to be edited to get your excitement; it merely just plays the video that it takes. A show like this has advantages to its viewers. This show may spark someone’s interest in police work. It also can show what life is like when you go off track. Basically it discourages a criminal lifestyle. Other shows such as “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Animal Planet” are just real videos taken of funny situations. Many would not consider this “reality television” however. It seems that label is only slapped on the shows mentioned prior to these.
If “reality” television were really reality, it would not nearly be as popular as it is today. For example, if we were to look at the movie The Truman Show. This is a movie of a man’s life that is being filmed 24 hours a day 7 days a week. He does not have any idea that is life around him is not real, and that there are thousands of cameras watching his every move. Now what makes this real, is that there are no cuts, no editing. It is “real time” as they call it. There are never any cuts, never any commercials. Though they might not have commercials, product placement plays a huge role in the film, and the people watching it. I know this sounds ever more fake then “Survivor,” but what you have to understand is the concept. Marie-Laure Ryan states that “Its only in the realm of the imagination that a continuous live broadcast could generate sufficient interest to justify sustained watching” (Ryan, 2001, p.3). What she is saying here is that if we were to watch a program such as this, it would loose our attention very quickly. “…A show of this kind would have such a low degree of narrativity and so many dead moments that nobody would want to watch it for an extended period of time” (Ryan). So if “reality” television was really reality, we would get bored so quickly. When watching this movie they show all the dramatic, important scenes. However, they do describe to us that it’s in real time, that there are many dead moments, and that people watch this show their whole life. When he is sleeping the camera is filming him snore. Now the reason it worked in a movie is because they have complete control over their environment. If the producers from CBS, or NBC were to film one person and never edit it or cut it, we would become bored very easily. But they would be showing their viewers reality television. Now of coarse The Truman Show is fiction, but it still proves an important point. Ryan continues by saying “The show is not only a paradoxical hybrid of fiction and nonfiction, it also manages to be at the same time Reality show and soap opera. Through this combination of raw life and staged action, the show cleverly taps into the two fundamentals sources of narrative appeal” (Ryan). She finishes by describing how we are fascinated by the true stories of his life because we are citizens of the same world as their participants. However we are attracted to the made up stories of narrative fiction because they fulfill formal and thematic patterns that engage the imagination. This show provides a guaranteed truth, unlike the shows we find on television today.
Jonathan Rauch writes an article stating the difference between Reality TV and Reality. This article speaks of a show that was broadcasted on TBS. This show is called “War Games” Rauch speaks about its title of “reality” and just what is real and what is not. The show basically gives the viewer an inside look at the combat-readiness exercises that our military uses to prepare for war. TBS is trying to reach out to what they call the “regular guy.” Thus every week they host a movie with a rugged edge, and ask if your man enough to take it. They call it reality TV, but how real is it. The show is directed towards men, along with the whole station. The show covers one exercise for each of the four military services. What this show does with each one of these is hype them up. It uses all the “fast cutting, dramatic editing, animations, bomb’s eye view simulations, sound effects, and graphics at its disposal” (Rauch). Rauch basically tells us it gives us as much excitement as we can handle. He main argument comes from that point. He believes that this isn’t reality TV, because it’s not real. He uses examples of the show “survivor” and “Temptation Island” nothing is real about these shows…they are edited for you enjoyment. He ends the article with calling the show a documentary. He doesn’t end with bashing it completely, but he also voices his opinion. What Rauch states in this article can be applied to almost all reality shows. “Its not real” (Rauch, p.2). He supports this statement by explaining that the editors and writers re-create a more action packed, exciting view of these four military services. I for one completely agree. I have seen this show and it is a classic example of edited reality. Rauch calls this show a documentary, not a reality program. It tells a story with action shots, other then slow pans of pictures and narrators with a thick British accent. I feel that this only supports the fact that “reality” show are not really reality
When speaking of “reality” I must bring to attention the effect that a camera has on an individual. In all these “reality” shows there are cameras everywhere, and the people on the show know this. They see the camera staying them in the face every day, watching their every move. Do you think that you would do the same things you do every day if a camera was on you? Would you act the same? I can answer that question for you, NO!!! What is being real to the producer’s point of view? Again, I might have to go with the consistency concept: A cast member will be “real” if she/he can remain exactly who she/he is on and off the camera. She/he will be unaffected by the idea of being watched, and will not edit him/herself based on the idea that whomever that person is talking about may one day find out. This plays a huge role in all reality television. When viewing these shows we often think that the people in them have no idea the cameras are there. However I assure you that every decision they make is based upon a cameras staying them in the face. To me, being “real” is recognizing the reality of the situation, which means being aware of everything going on around you, and being aware of the consequences. It’s hard to label someone being “real” if they are making decisions with the idea that they are being watched. Ian Burchman brings up another point however, he describes how “…the complete eradication of privacy. As much as we want to be able to witness every excruciating moment of the contestants lives, we can only do so at the expense of their privacy, which is to say, at the cost of giving up what we generally uphold as everyone’s right (Burchman, 2001, p.4). So in that loss of privacy we find people not being “real” thus contradicting its very name. Jamie Vacca writes “There’s so man facets to people’s personalities, but they can only show one of two things about your character within a season (Real World). In reality, then, reality TV is a game show. You put yourself out there in exchange for a shot at something bigger” (Vacca, 2002, p.1). To me this sounds as far away from reality as possible. But yet producers still label it just that. Vacca explains in her article how people use reality television to get their selves recognized and hopefully noticed in the mainstream media. This of coarse completely changes how one acts when a camera is on them, thus altering real reality.
Now with all this negative talk about “reality” television some positive can come out of it. Like I mentioned before, the show COPS gives a view of what police officers go through day in and day out. This show allows us to have more respect for them, and maybe sparks an interest in ourselves to become one. Shows such as “Americas Most Wanted” helps to find criminals by reacting “real” events that happened, and posting pictures of convicts. The fact there is a positive side of reality television does not mean that the whole genre is appropriate at all. It does show however that at times following people around with a camera can be useful. It is also said that people watch these reality shows and learn from them. Many tell themselves that they will never act like that, because they see the consequences for someone’s actions on TV. I do not want to stretch that point to far, because that is not always the case. But if you look hard enough, some positive can come out of reality television. Mathew Grimm explains, “Reality television can give us a picture of how we don’t want to live our lives” (Grimm, p.2).
So to some reality TV is nothing but a way not to live your life. I have already stated many drawbacks concerning reality television, only because there is so many. We find ourselves adjusting to what we see on TV. All the violence, harsh language, and explicit sexual material. These things were once UN heard of on television. Nothing brings them to the screen more then “reality” TV. Every year it seems that different organizations are re-writing what is appropriate and what is not. And every year more and more is allowed. It all comes down to what the American public wants to see. Unfortunately what they want is the things that I just mentioned, Violence, harsh language, and explicit sexual material. Many people are asking where this newfound tolerance is coming from? I think it’s because society is maturing faster. Is the blame all on “reality” television? I don’t know, but I know that people of all ages are influenced by what they see on television.
In conclusion, reality television is a cause for concern. We must take into consideration how “reality” television provokes our thoughts of true reality and influences our culture into unrealistic norms. Our Society seeks excitement and feeds on the lives of other people. But how do we decide what is real and what is not? There are still questions to be asked. When does a show stop being reality? What is your definition of reality? Katherine Hayles states “reality is merely a perception of how we see the world and how we choose to live our lives” (Hayes, 1999, p.12). These questions are ones that have many different answers, but society seems to have been taken over by what they think “reality” is all about. So the next time you sit down and watch a “so called Reality show” take into consideration how it is presented to you, and what aspects it promotes the most. You may find yourself seeing more then you thought was there, and maybe realizing that the picture in front of you is not reality.
Reiss, Steven.; Wiltz, James. (2001). Why America loves reality TV. Pg. 52-56. Available : http://firstsearch.oclc.org.htm
Buchanan, Ian. (2001, Sep). Enjoying Reality TV. Australian Humanities Journal. Retrieved from http://www.lib.latrobe.edu.au.htm
Grimm, Matthew. (2001, July). Reality Bites. American Demographics. Available: http://firstsearch.oclc.org
Ryan Laure, Marie. (2001). Intensities: The journal of cult media. Narrative versus Reality in Fake and Real Reality TV. Available: http://www.cult-media.com
Hayles, N. Katherine (1999). “Artificial Life and Literary Culture,” Bloomington: Indiana: University Press.
Rauch, Jonathan. (2001, March). Chronicle of Higher Education: The Difference Between “Reality TV” and Reality. (pp. 1-4). Retrieved from: http://chronicle.com
Vacca, Jamie. (2002, Jan). Reality Check. Atlanta’s Journals. Available: http://firstsearch.oclc.org.com
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