Today's TV: A False Reality

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Think back to middle school, when it all began. People were getting excited about the new show, “American Idol”, and the recently popularized, “Survivor”. These “reality” television shows became more popular as the years went by, and now it’s hard to find something that isn’t in the category popularly known as Reality TV. There are even subcategories: for the fashionistas-“Project Runway” and “America’s Next Top Model”; the romantic-“Flavor of Love”, “Millionaire Matchmaker”, and “I Love New York”; the athletic-“American Gladiator”; and those who just love to gape at how the rich and famous spend their money-The Real Housewives” and “The Hills”, among others.
Never mind that the people on screen are in controlled environments with prompts or even scripts or that the editing is to the extreme, people love to tune in and think to themselves: Hey, maybe I could be the next “Project Runway” winner, the next American Gladiator, or wife of some obnoxious millionaire. Viewers relax in the comfort of their home as participants are put through week after week of increasingly difficult tasks, argue with other participants, and make fools of themselves on public television. Gradually, viewers come to root for a certain contestant, joining their fan site on Facebook, and maybe even coming to adopt some of their tendencies (‘that shirt is so fierce!’).
Can all of this TV be too much? Sure it was fun at first, but how many new topics can TV producers come up with that will spur the interests of viewers? They’re already reaching for such far-fetched “entertainment” as “Your Momma Don’t Dance”, about professional dancers performing with their parents (and consequently questioning where they ever got their coordination), and “The Biggest Loser”, a show during which spectators eat ice cream and popcorn at home while the people on screen run around and get excited when they go from 256 pounds to 250 pounds. New shows are simply becoming spin-offs of the few non-reality shows still out there, or the previous season. Take for example “The Real Housewives”, which applies as both. It came about after the creation of the popular show “Desperate Housewives”, and now is airing its season, “The Real Housewives of New York City”, and is slated to begin “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”.
It is indisputable that our culture is one which encourages voyeurism. Not only do people enjoy catching a glimpse of others’ lives by watching participants on reality shows, but also through tabloids and sites like Perezhilton.com, which keeps the average citizen informed of every detail in celebrities’ lives. Unfortunately, this new-found cultural obsession with other people’s lives is making it difficult for such captivating series as “Law and Order” or “24,” or such humerous, albeit off-color sitcoms as “Family Guy” and “South Park” to stay on the air. Consequently, programmers are moving these shows to obscure times or off the air completely to make room for, what else, more reality shows. Like everyone I too have my choice list of reality shows that I watch, but it’s time to ask the question: where are the days when we discussed “Friends” at school instead of this, that, or the other reality show?
Hopefully, like love-themed game shows of the sixties, reality TV is a phase that will soon die out. Viewers will turn to better programs, which create characters with normal, functioning relationships, jobs, and interests. In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait out the storm. And don’t forget to vote for your favorite contestant tonight on “The Real World: TeenInk!”





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