Frequent reality TV watchers should reflect upon their viewing decisions
Once an avid viewer of television, I have not had much time or the opportunity for TV after coming to college. As a result, I am often out of touch with a lot of current shows. Recently, I watched an episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” with a friend of mine. I knew about the show more or less when it began to air, but had never actually watched any episodes until recently. U.S. reality TV never has never managed to grab my attention. Yet I can see the allure of shows like “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and “Jersey Shore.” Despite many people’s complaints of Kim Kardashian or the show, the fact that it still garners the ratings it does indicates a significant part of the population is still fascinated by it.
In fact, some of the highest rated programs for the young adult demographic for the summer of 2010 were reality TV shows. Some such as Jersey Shore attracted 4.4 million viewers (18-49 age range) for an episode. Other popular shows included “the Bachelorette” and “America’s Got Talent.”
So why are we so captivated by and addicted to these shows? Perhaps the answer lies in their atmospheres of heightened drama and behavior. Despite being labeled as reality TV, many of these shows are hardly adequate depictions of “real” life. Rather, they are inflated versions of life, and that makes it more entertaining. If these shows were too much like real life, then they probably would be rather mundane. Instead, reality television can be a form of escapism into the lives of people who seem to lead a dramatized, tumultuous life. Even if some of the antics of individuals like Snooki are quite embarrassing, we still remain intrigued. Granted, these individuals willingly put themselves in those kinds of positions. Regardless, our captivation encourages the notion that it is acceptable to obtain fame by behaving in manners similar to the Kardashians or characters on “Jersey Shore.” It sends the wrong message. Desiring fame is not a bad thing, but obtaining it by putting ourselves in often humiliating situations is hardly the ideal message to send to the youth.
Furthermore, the Parents Television Council did an analysis on the content of four MTV shows: “Jersey Shore,” “Real World,” “Teen Mom 2” and “16 and Pregnant.” Their results generally indicated that the female characters in these shows were more likely to be critical about themselves or other women in comparison to male characters. In fact, only 24 percent of the women made positive remarks about themselves.. This kind of content can send the wrong message about women and the perception of women among young girls watching the show.
In addition, reality television can have an impact on our decisions. According to a study titled, “The Influence of Plastic Surgery ‘Reality TV’ on Cosmetic Surgery Patient Expectations and Decision Making,” watching reality television about plastic surgery can impact a person’s decision to go through with the surgery. The study indicated that four out of five patients were to varying degrees influenced by reality TV in their decision to undertake plastic surgery. Furthermore, individuals who were described as “high-intensity” viewers — individuals who consistently watched reality TV shows about plastic surgery — also considered themselves to possess a lot of knowledge on the subject. Reality TV does not necessarily shape a person’s thinking, but it does have the potential in varying degrees to influence a person’s decision making process.
Of course, to claim that all reality television is the same or has the same effects would be too much of a generalization. TV shows like “American Idol” are not the same type of reality TV as “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” “American Idol” can serve as a platform for individuals to have a chance at pursuing their dreams. It can inspire individuals to pursue their singing aspirations and thus can have a positive impact.
I neither dislike nor oppose all forms of reality TV. But reality shows like “Jersey Shore” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” have more negative aspects than positive, though they are quite entertaining. It is nevertheless important to recognize and re-evaluate our own obsession and addiction to these shows.
Fariha Kabir’s column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.