Pop Culture Poison: Reality TV
Flipping through the television channels last week, I was amazed by the amount of “reality” programming that fills up the airwaves of prime time. Chances are, on any given night, either the broadcast networks or their cable counterparts will be offering the latest opportunity for you to watch men and women eating bovine testicles, walking on broken glass, or maybe even cheating on their husbands or wives.
Producers around the country can’t seem to get enough. It’s estimated that reality TV will account for nearly 40% of this summer’s television offerings, as each of the big four broadcast networks have staked their claim in what is the first gold rush of the 21st century. The reasoning behind this shift is twofold: the genre is extremely cheap to produce, and has the potential for huge ratings. In a climate where it is not unusual for television stars to ask for a million dollars an episode, the idea of paying some no names a few thousand dollars per episode, while surpassing the big name sitcoms in the ratings, is a very appealing one. It is because of these very appealing thoughts of the almighty dollar that networks continue to peddle out what is quite possibly the most disturbing aspect of our popular culture.
Reality television, by definition, is an outright lie. The point is to get people to watch. Hardly anyone (aside from NBA all stars) will have 50 women fighting for the right to date them. Even less will have the voyeuristic experience of living in a camera and microphone filled house with 10 other people. The high ratings for such shows rely on this complete departure from the reality of the majority of Americans. This reliance on being shocking and exciting also requires the makers of such entertainment to keep pushing the envelope further and further, in order to keep attracting viewers. Who wants to watch the same show over and over again? Thus begins the natural progression from the fairly innocuous “Real World” of the early 90s to the trash TV of today.
The major problem with this continuing slide in programming is that those who view it don’t walk away unaffected. The behavior that was once a complete departure from the everyday slowly begins to become normal and accepted. Because people are social animals, we learn by imitating behavior of others. The skills that allow us to walk, talk, read, and write are all dependent on us watching and listening to someone else do it first. We are built to learn by doing what others do.