March 10, 2011

People Watch Reality TV for all the Wrong Reasons

Filed under: Uncategorized — publicandprivatespace @ 11:40 am

by Kyle Gooding

We have all surely seen a reality television show before and perhaps some of us are even avid fans of this type of genre, but do we ever wonder why we are so drawn to this kind of programming?  It is safe to say that most reality TV shows do not promote the most morally upright standard of living, so why has its popularity skyrocketed in the past few years?  At this point in our lives, chances are when we see these shows on our favorite stations we don’t even pay them a second thought.  They have simply become part of our day to day life and seem to be accepted with little thought as to why they are springing up everywhere, and in all different shapes and sizes.

 These shows do not set out to make us better people.  They achieve ratings by editing their contestants’ lives in order to pack them full of drama and promiscuity.  The people in charge of these programs know that they will receive better ratings if they exploit the more racy sides of life as opposed to people working together to selflessly help others.  And the public as a whole sits down and eats it all up with little to no remorse.  There must be something in particular that is drawing us like flies to this type of media.

 Reiss and Wiltz did a study on why people actually watch reality TV and the results are very interesting.  It was found that status is one of the big reasons people seek fulfillment of their entertainment needs by way of this genre.  Reality television is all about bringing out the worst in people so that the viewer can feel better about his own existence.  The people that specifically view these shows due to an ingrained sense of having a specified place in society, do so in order to feel that the people in these shows are beneath them.  They have a superiority complex that needs to be satisfied by watching other people’s problems.  This need to feel better about themselves can even be accomplished through shows like Biggest Loser that should be seen as purely uplifting.

  Another big reason for watching reality TV is to fulfill a need for voyeurism.  Reality TV is said to portray ordinary people engaged in the practice of being extraordinary, which leads the common man to dream of one day being in the same situation, or to simply live this dream through the people seen on his television.  People see the fame and status that comes with being on public television and decide that if they imitate these ordinary people, than they too will gain a slice of the good life.  Generally this “good life” is anything but good, and adds to the moral decay of our world.

  In some cases, it has been discovered that people actually fulfill their need for human contact through these shows.  This just strengthens the idea that reality TV is taking us away from relationships we should be forming with real people, and instead is attempting to present us with this replacement reality.  The people behind this programming want to draw us into watching their shows, and once they know what we want they will continue to reel us in.  Perhaps this would not be such a big deal, but in almost all cases reality TV appeals to our darkest emotions and desires.  Things like sex and drugs seem to insure the popularity of these shows.

 People also often watch this genre just to see the misfortune of others.  Reality TV does nothing to increase brotherly love or morality, and is actually leading us away from what we should value in society.  A recent show called Wipeout exists solely for the purpose of showing the pain of common people.  This show is all in good taste but at the same time, why do we enjoy seeing the pain of others so much?  I for one enjoy watching Wipeout on occasion, but this progression toward cheap laughs should make us wonder how far people are willing to go to inflict this type of humorous pain on others.  If you consider Jackass to be a reality TV program, than you probably have an idea of the extent some people are willing to go to in order to procure cheap laughs.


We should never simply accept something just because it seems natural to society.  Just because something gains a huge amount of popularity does not always mean it is right, and many times it pays off to think about how the genre actually gained its popularity.  Everything in our lives is present for a reason and if reality TV is a part of our day to day lives, than it must have some hold on our hearts.  So now we fill in the blank: I watch reality TV because ______.  If this answer is not something worthwhile to our development as humans than why do we tune in?

  We are at our most vulnerable when we settle down to be entertained by our televisions, and when something is so readily available to us we think it could not possibly do us any harm.  If we recognize the intent of these programs we will be less likely to be ambushed by this subliminal trap.  The creators of these cheap entertainment programs are in the business to make money, and are willing to exploit our human weaknesses to do so.  It is ok to watch reality TV, but being aware of its allure is essential.  We should always look past the façade of popular culture and develop opinions based on our own beliefs, not on what we are told is the norm.



  1. By Danny Macovei

    I agree with some of the things in this article, but there are some things that I’m not so sure about. I think you are completely correct in your discussion of why we watch these reality TV shows, especially when you talk about how we watch them in order to see people that we think of as beneath us. This being said, I’m not sure that other TV shows are much better. We may not watch them to feel a sense of superiority, but if you watch a drama or a comedy each week, I think that you develop a relationship with the characters in them as well. The only type of show that I’d say actually develops positive traits in humanity is the educational genre. None of the other shows deal with concepts that a book wouldn’t capture better. While these shows may not shine a light on the dark side of society, they certainly don’t make people realize anything that is not popular culture, so I think if we were to do away with reality TV, we should do away with TV as well, or else just decide that people have the right to watch whatever they want.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 10, 2011 @ 12:15 pm | Reply

  2. By Joe Haas

    Regarding reality television, there is no doubt in my mind that people watch it to feel better about themselves. I have many friends and acquaintances who have explicitly told me that they watch Jersey Shore to feel better about their life situation. They see how some of the stars on reality tv are dumber or poorer than themselves. I also enjoy occasionally watching Jersey Shore because it is so funny to see how these wild people handle all of their pointless drama. I disagree with Danny in his assessment of television outside of the reality realm. There are many programs which are awful, and almost none of the programs truly offer any educational benefit; however, there is an entertainment value that people receive from shows. Lost, The Simpson’s, Tosh Point O, and Fringe are examples of shows that offer value other than academic. Lost and Fringe are shows that make people think. Individuals use their imagination when they watch these types of programs. The Simpson’s and Tosh Point O offer laughter and a new perspective on the world around us. When you laugh at a situation, you see it from a lighter perspective. It is not always a bad thing to have a laugh.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 10, 2011 @ 2:13 pm | Reply

  3. Many of the current reality TV shows seem to be aimed at the younger generation who are impressible and struggling to find a fast way to live the American dream. Thus, reality TV is a format that appeals to them with the delusion that they can obtain fame and fortune with little work and eager to participate in a reality TV show. In turn, other people may simply find reality TV entertaining because they enjoy watching others belittle themselves because it makes them feel better about themselves. These types of viewers and participants give good reasons for the production companies to continue making realty TV shows. Television was made for entertainment and people do have the right to watch what they want to. However, just like the junk food we consume in our bodies, too much junk TV can make you mentally unhealthy.
    By: Cory Cantor

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 10, 2011 @ 9:55 pm | Reply

  4. I hardly ever watch reality T.V. Like mentioned above I do not consider it to be a worthwhile investment of my time, especially as I find myself busy with homework, sleeping eating and the occasional video game. You know, the essentials. But what I find somewhat troubling about this post is the repeated attack against reality television or, as mentioned by Danny above, television in general. Almost all of the bloggers on this thread suggest that only television genre that doesn’t promote “moral decay” and does promote “positive traits in humanity” are shows that relate to the educational genre. I’m assuming you are referring to shows on the History Channel, Discovery etc. And as big of a fan as I am of these shows (and trust me, I am), I’m not sure that these shows pertain to everyone. Many people, after a hard day of work at chemistry, physics, studio, or whatever gives us academic headaches, want to relax by watching an episode of How it’s Made or Modern Marvels. That simply doesn’t interest them. They want to actually enjoy the time they have away from learning.
    Everyone is worried that reality T.V. is decaying our brains and making us “mentally unhealthy.” I think that what we aren’t acknowledging is the importance of those breaks from academia. Of those times where we are able to go out and enjoy ourselves. You all know that person who is constantly working and never deviates from “learning.” I bet many people would say that he was “mentally unhealthy.” What I’m trying to say by defending reality television is that perhaps we are being too quick to judge. That we shouldn’t necessarily look at reality T.V. as if it is some evil plague upon society. Instead it is just another form of entertainment, much like video games, or books or anything else that has that can spark your interest. What is a sitcom but a book played out for us on a stage? Why is it that because it is bound between a cover it has more academic value? All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.

    -Will Paton

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 11, 2011 @ 11:00 am | Reply

  5. Julie Whalen

    I found this article very interesting because it gave me some views on reality TV that I haven’t realized before. Such as how reality TV is substituted for human contact. Through some of my friends I realize that this is true. Also, I thought it was interesting how you addressed the viewers’ interest in watching the pain of others, such as on Wipeout. Honestly, I think the main reason for that is because, well…it’s funny. There is an element of shielding there, where we know that the show won’t let the contestants get seriously injured, so when they fall in a mud pit we can find it amusing. This isn’t really an aspect of humanity to be proud of, but it’s definitely one that exists.
    I agree with you that people watch reality TV shows like Jersey Shore and The Real World because they feel they are above those people and spend the entire show laughing at them. But as for shows like Biggest Loser and I Used to be Fat, I think more people do just find those uplifting and inspirational. One of my family members got inspired to lose weight just y watching these shows. The mentality is “If they can do it, so can I.”

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 11, 2011 @ 11:35 am | Reply

  6. Although I think that reality tv is a joke of a genre, I admit to watching it frequently. I think that it is humorous to watch how some of these people behave. I do not watch reality tv shows to laugh at fat people on “The Biggest Loser.” I think that that is very brave of (most of) them. However, there are times when people behave as though they are above everyone else, such as Dustin Diamonds meltdown on “Celebrity Fit Club.” It is because of things like that that draw me to reality tv shows. I think that its not the reality part of the shows, but the fictional aspect of it. I think to myself, “do people really act like this in real life?” Even as I am watching reality shows with friends I even make it a point to say, “you know what’s really sad is that people really act like this.” I think that reality shows give us a small glimpse at the way other people view things, it just so happens that the more ridiculous their views are, the more entertainment it brings.
    Daniel Latz

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 11, 2011 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  7. You say that we should base our actions on their moral value, and not on what is considered the norm by society. However, morality is socially constructed. Your argument on the evils of reality television is self contradictory. Also, I don’t believe that you should try to force people to conform to your sense of morality. Maybe they are hedonists and think that the pleasure of a cheap thrill is perfectly moral and anything else would be less pleasurable and therefore immoral. The reasons why people watch are interesting though.
    Ethan Hollingsworth

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 11, 2011 @ 2:18 pm | Reply

  8. Devina Mehta

    I believe that reality TV shows are not harmful as long as teens realize that it is purely for entertainment and for the mostly fictional. I personally am a huge fan of reality TV shows and other fictional teenager shows. However, I regard Jershey Shore, The Hills, Real Housewives of Miami just as fictional as Gossip Girl and 90210. With all of the studying and stresses of life it is so nice to just be able to hang out and watch other people’s lives, so we don’t have to think of ours for a few hours. Also, I do not see any difference in any fictional TV shows and reality TV shows. Majority of shows are giving off the wrong impression and sending bad messages to society. If people want to critique reality TV shows, other shows should be held to the same standards. Additionally, though many people would not agree with this, I see TV shows as animated books. Of course no shows can compare to any of the great literary works of our time, but many TV shows are based off of novels. Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars is a prime example of this. However, you do not see people going around critiquing novels in libraries, so shows should be no different. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and if they want to watch a show then all the power to them!

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 11, 2011 @ 3:19 pm | Reply

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