What are we gaining from reality TV?

When reality TV celebs like Kim Kardashian have only marginally less followers on Twitter than the President of the United States of America (14 million vs 16 million) maybe it’s time to ask why these “constructed reality” shows are so popular? And what – if anything – are we gaining from them and our newly found positions of voyeurs?

One study conducted a few years back concluded that unlike other shows such as news programs or sitcoms, reality TV allows viewers to imagine themselves as actual participants – giving them the chance to compare and contrast their own lives with what’s taking place on the screen.

But can they really even do that? Arguably shows like Made In Chelsea and Keeping Up With The Kardashians give a distorted view of what real life is like. Hop out the Bentley to a door opened by your chauffeur? Some may argue not even the reality stars themselves really maintain that sort of lifestyle. After all, they have the studio budget to provide them with the perks.

“It’s like gossiping,” said an avid reality TV show viewer when asked what draws her to the concept. “You can see every move made right in front of you.” Essentially, it’s car crash television – you just can’t tear your eyes away from it. To this respect, many suggest that the shows are a way of escapism. Meshing into a life which may be more interesting, and dramatic, than your own.

Arguably much of the appeal of reality TV is what goes on on the social networking sites – hashtags encouraged and running commentaries on Facebook – and Twitter feeds in particular – without which the viewing would be infinitely less entertaining. This is in addition to the sense of community such shows and the discussion of them births. In a world which is increasingly fractured in terms of the amount of time we spend with our friends and families, with people living further and further apart and only one in five of us having ever spoken to our neighbours – it gives us a new social group to belong to.

This is made even more so by continued watching of the programme. “It becomes almost like you’re watching the intimate lives of your friends,” said another reality TV fan.

The fact of the matter is, even if you don’t watch reality television – it’s increasingly hard to avoid. Whether or not you watch the Kardashians, it would be almost impossible not to know who they are. Almost every channel hosts a reality TV show or two, and MTV itself now consists almost entirely of reality TV, to the extent that new channels have had to be set up for the purpose of handling the music side of things.

But with all the buzz and power surrounding those who appear on reality TV, maybe it’s time to stop blaming Disney for our unrealistic expectations, and take a closer look at what is being branded as ‘reality.’

As written for SB.TV


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