The reality show spectrum has taken over television, and, by extent, our lives. The Real Housewives of every city in America have become household names and the Kardashians have become idols of international success. Given this recent and undeniable "reality frenzy," we can't help but ask ourselves: why are we so obsessed with reality TV?
Is it that reality TV portrays real life, and we can't help but be drawn to something we sympathize with? The equation can't be that simple. It is that these sorts of shows carefully combine reality with fantasy to set up a lifestyle that we envy yet relate to.
What we the viewers want to see in reality TV are essentially two elements: characters and progress. We want to watch someone who is truly a character: someone funny, someone who deals with the same issues that we do, only in an exaggerated way or under unusual circumstances. Take the Kardashians again as an example: sure, any mother of multiple children can relate to Kris Jenner on raising kids and making sure they turn out right, but how many mothers can relate to having world-famous children who fly on their own private jets or go to photo shoots every other day? Then, we want to see progress. As the seasons go on, we want to see the characters mature, better themselves, and learn from their past mistakes. On Dancing with the Stars, we want to see the performers come up with more and more creative moves and challenge themselves further. These two elements are crucial in keeping us glued to the tube.
But the effects of reality TV have certainly not all been positive. Having your life publicly displayed to the nation is bound to receive plenty of harsh criticism. We have witnessed reality TV stars that haven't been able to handle such pressure. Take Russell Armstrong as an example: already suffering from personal and marital problems before the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills hit the air, Armstrong couldn't tolerate the national exposure and the consequences which come with it and sadly took his own life as a result. As a clinical psychologist, I am led to believe by Armstrong's behavior that he was already suffering from depression and perhaps a hint of bipolar disorder before the show aired and amplified his unbalanced emotional state.
Reality show characters reflect a lifestyle that we want yet don't want, the drama that we hate to encounter in our own lives yet can't wait to witness in the lives of others, and the opportunity to voice our opinions. Have you noticed that social networks and reality TV have risen hand-in-hand? Many reality TV shows have become quite interactive through social media, forums, and, of course, viewer voting.
You identify yourself with the characters in these shows. You see yourself in the character and even see the possibility of becoming well known, just like them. It opens a door in your mind and makes you think: "hey, if she can become famous, so can I!" This is a status which, in the past, we used to think was impossible to reach. Reality TV makes fame and the wealth that come with it accessible to the minds of millions.
On another token, reality TV takes the focus off of your own reality. It makes you dream and forget your own problems for the time being. It allows you to become involved in that drama and as you watch it unfold in front of you, you are captivated by it and disconnect from the drama in your own life. You can literally plug into another source of drama. This is why gossip and tabloids have forever lived with fervent popularity in the American culture. We temporarily embed ourselves in the story of another.
As for the future of television, there is no saying whether reality TV will stick around for the years to come or if it will be replaced by a different genre that will become the new American favorite. What is safe to say, however, is that reality TV has left quite the mark on the history of American television, and I, for one, will be tuning in to watch what comes next.
Image Credit: Bravotv.com
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