What to Watch This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     Life has its memorable moments: finding a spouse, starting a job, striking it rich, even getting a new style. What do all these have in common? They are examples of reality television plots. It doesn’t stop there: broadcasting companies find hundreds of ordinary people to perform to gain fame (“American Idol”), partake in extreme challenges (“Survivor” and “Fear Factor”) or compete to win another’s heart (“The Bachelor/ette”).

Though these TV programs seem like the key to a lifetime of happiness, have you ever stopped to wonder just how real they are? Many, despite claims of being unscripted, are almost the equivalent of a sitcom, creating characters and scenarios to draw in viewers. This in turn gives viewers false ideas about the contestants, which usually leaves this “character” thought of as a horrible person, causing humiliation. So why, if it’s so brutal, do over 125 million Americans find reality TV so entertaining?

“The shows are popular with TV producers because they are inexpensive to put together, compared with paying the cast of ‘Friends’ millions of dollars for each episode, and yet garner higher ratings. To keep getting those viewers, though, the shows tend to become more extreme every season,” says Teresa Pitman in an article for Today’s Parent. What she says is absolutely correct, and while the immensely anticipated finale of “Friends” attracted endless fans, now that the show is over, there is nothing to look forward to, which gives the producers of reality television a chance to create new gimmicks, like dramatic cuts to commercials and the recent spy on “The Bachelor.” These tricks can fool even the most skeptical into tuning in.

Furthermore, commercials are not the only things edited for drama. The footage itself is cut to create the most interesting storyline. Pitman states that for every hour of a reality show aired, 100 hours were actually shot. Proof was seen in MSNBC’s interview with Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, a participant on “The Apprentice,” who claims, “What you see on the show is a gross misrepresentation of who I am. For instance they never show me smiling, it’s just not consistent with the negative portrayal of me that they want to present. Last week they portrayed me as lazy and pretending to be hurt to get out of working, when in fact I had a concussion due to a serious injury on the set and spent nearly 10 hours in the emergency room. It’s all in the editing!”

This controversy can reinforce racial stereotypes as well. An assumption is made when one African American does something on TV, good or bad, so that the viewers automatically think blacks are all like that, whereas whites are individuals. Regardless of the fact that racism has existed for centuries, the media’s representations prove the most influential for children and young adults, leaving them with the idea that whites are superior.

Another incorrect idea America’s adolescents are learning from reality TV is that dreams come true easily. Programs like “Extreme Makeover” and “The Swan,” or competitive shows like “Are You Hot?” can make self-conscious teenagers feel unattractive. But, on the other hand, “Jackass” features daredevils filming each other doing horrific stunts and causing serious harm to themselves. These injuries may seem funny because most kids don’t realize the risks are real, and want to imitate the guys on the show. The lack of awareness can result in trips to the hospital. Who would have thought a child could die just by watching TV?

Practically every TV channel, cable or network, is fighting to be the first to air the newest reality hit, but how much longer will these shows last? With over 200 reality television shows produced in the United States since 1999, this new category has become one the world’s biggest fads, grabbing viewers young and old. Perhaps the public will realize the negative imprints that the shows of reality TV are leaving on society, and remember what TV used to be like when actors played characters who taught lessons through their comedic or dramatic deeds. Maybe the next time you sit down in front of the tube on a Thursday night, you’ll remember that reality TV isn’t nearly as real as the name suggests.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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Alyssa J. said...
May 17, 2009 at 8:17 pm
You think we fall in love just to be like people on tv? Or experience something new? Maybe these people are inspirations for some, or we just happend to fall in love or decide that we wanted to jump off the high dive because we were ready. TV is something we have in our lives, but its definatly not our entire lives.
 
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