18 November 2010
Reality television became a part of American culture in 1992 when MTV launched a new show called The Real World which put a celebrity spotlight on regular people for the first time. This breakout new style of entertainment has been nothing short of a revolution, giving way to some of the most watched shows of the past eighteen years. In an argument regarding this topic David Couchman states “ever since television executives realized that Western audiences can’t get enough spurious, fraudulent nonsense on television, they have produced virtually every imaginable rendering of the reality genre, developing some of the most crass and simplistic nonsense ever to air on television” (Couchman 1). The viewers that keep this “non-acting’’ style of television so popular are generally within the age range of fourteen to twenty, which is a critical point of growth within a young person’s life. Unfortunately what these reality shows unconsciously teach children might not be a lesson that is worth knowing. Each fresh faced reality star is showered with extravagant gifts and thrown into a luxurious lifestyle after signing up to participate in a show. These gifts include rides in decorated limousines, a celebrity style mansion to live in, the latest fashions to wear, and free passes to the most exclusive clubs in whatever major city these stars are located in. Television producers create this manufactured setting simply to entertain audiences while keeping their ratings up, as we are more likely to watch shows in a setting that “wows” us. However, young viewers now look up to these reality stars just as children of past generations use to idolize their favorite sitcom stars. The only difference between these two role model figures would be: one is wholesome and comical while the other is materialistic and vain. Teenagers today watch reality stars live extravagant, yet shallow, lives and then expect their own lives to mirror that of their role models. This is a dangerous cycle that is leading the youth of today down an unrealistic path. Therefore, reality television shows instill materialistic values and unethical morals in today’s young generation.
Every reality shows begins with a similar scene of contestants gasping over the stunning house they will be living in throughout the remainder of the show. These houses include pools, hot tubs, gyms, multiple bedrooms, and a spacious kitchen and living room with all the most modern technologies. The Bachelor, The Bachelor Pad, Big Brother, Americas Next Top Model, and many others are guilty of this indulgence. Teenagers who watch reality stars living in such luxury begin to view their own average lifestyle as boring and soon wish for the same life as the realty stars they watch. It’s safe to say that “reality shows let viewers vicariously experience a different lifestyle” (Lewis 2), but this life style has none of the values that lead to a contented and wholesome existence. This dangerous alter reality hardly ever speaks about family or family relationships, men and women are fighting more often than they are creating friendships, and every scene includes some form of alcohol or images of intimate relationships between two people who have know each other for a limited time period. The messages these images create include; family relationships are not something to be cherished, losing your temper with other people and being a part of a dramatic incident is something to be achieved, and drinking alcohol and being intimate with other people quickly is “the thing to do.” All of these scenes take place within a mansion, a limousine, or a club giving them an even more alluring charm to teenage viewers who will soon want the same high priced merchandise, to live in a similar way.
Another harmful message that is unconsciously given through reality television is a distorted image of one’s body. All media today is guilty of this is some way, but reality television can truly make any teenage girl self-conscious of the way she looks. Producers of such shows review each potential contestant, eliminating the less attractive ones, to ultimately end up with a cast of above average looking young adults. These adults are, more often than not, hoping to create a career in acting, singing, or modeling through a reality show and therefore will try to be as glamorous and fit as possible. If a reality show is not looking for attractive men and women then they are on the opposite end of this spectrum and seek out the ugliest, geekiest, or worst dressed people. Shows such as What Not to Wear, Beauty and the Geek, and Extreme Makeover are guilty of this stereotyping within casting. No show is worse in this specific area than The Swan, which seeks to find the “most hopeless people” (Huff 67) and help them change their lives through extensive and painful plastic surgery. Delisa Stiles, winner of season two of the show, said that problems with her body and a lack of self confidence were ruining her marriage and life, which is why she volunteered to be transformed from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. For this transformation to take place Stiles had “a brow lift, lower eye lift, mid-face lift, a fat transfer to her lips, and some dental work” (Huff 68). After going through this process she was deemed the most changed and therefore, crowned The Swan sending audiences the message that getting plastic surgery will transform your unhappy life and give you confidence. This is a hazardous message that leads audiences to believe that paying for expensive plastic surgery and changing the appearance of your face and body will give way to happiness. The Swan leaves out the recovery process to this experience which Stiles describes as “very, very painful, I had draining tubes coming out from my head from having the eyebrow lift” (Huff 68). Young men and women who desire to spend money for unnecessary surgeries, simply to look like the reality stars shown on television, is a very materialistic need that lacks in morality.
What reality shows fail to convey is that a change of appearance or living among expensive products cannot bring happiness the way that family, friendship, and inner confidence can. Today’s young generation that have grown up with these shallow reality stars have lost this very important value. Due to the fact that reality stars lack this quality, teenagers who watch these characters will begin to lose it as well. Watching beautiful reality stars live carelessly in an extravagant manner or undergo major transformations to find happiness leads young viewers to believe that materialistic items can answer all their unspoken wishes.
Couchman, David. “The Unreal World of Reality Television.” Facing the Challenge. Challenging Times blog, 2010. Web. November 16, 2010 http://www.facingthechallenge.org/realitytv.php
Huff, Richard M. Reality Television. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006. Print.
Lewis, Jordan. “Is American Society too Materialistic.” Portfolio. City. Cult Lit. 10B, March 19, 2009. Web. http://portfolio.cityhigh.org/2011/jlewis/CER%201.pdf. November 16, 2010