March 30, 2014
TV Junk Food
The other day I was watching the season finale of ‘Are You The One?’ with some friends. While watching the show, one of my friends used the term “junk food” to describe the show as well as other reality shows. Meaning that similar to the junk food that we eat, there is “junk” on TV that we enjoy watching (it tastes good) but really does nothing for us (it is not healthy). Furthermore, reality programming makes up a significant chuck of what is available for us to watch. In 2009 thru 2010, reality programs took up around 14% of broadcast networks prime-time schedule. This percentage was even higher on the programming schedule for cable networks. Also, 27 hours of reality programs were schedule on broadcast network television in the first quarter of 2008, a 50% increase from the previous year (Wyatt, 2007). While reality TV shows such as “Are You the One?’, ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’, ‘The Real World’, and ‘Richkids of Beverly Hills’ just to name a few can be entertaining to watch, they skew our view of reality and make people believe that this is how people normally react with one another. This has a major effect on the youth in our society, as they are the age demographic that watches many of these shows. While it is true that I find many of these shows to be funny and entertaining, I know that much of what I am watching is scripted and planned for the purpose of creating a dramatic television show. However I feel as if younger teens and pre-teens are not fully aware of what they are engaging in.
In 2005-2006, “four of the 10 most popular television programs among viewers younger than 17 were reality programs” (Nielsen Media Research, 2006). However, and more importantly, is that there is evidence that young people tend to emulate the behaviors of the reality stars that they see on TV (Watson, 2008). This can be problematic for a number of reasons. Shows such as ‘Teen Mom’ and ‘Are You the One?’ deal with sexually explicit or mature themes such as teen pregnancy and sexual encounters. If it is true that young people have the tendency to enact what they see on MTV, then this could lead teen girls to be promiscuous and become sexually active before they are ready. Also, using the show Real World as an example, many times cast members engage in loud shouting arguments that sometimes become physical. While I am aware that many times alcohol has been consumed mixed with the fact that the producers like to play up cast conflicts, many younger viewers may believe that this is the way that you react around people who you do not like.
But why are we so fascinated with these types of shows and what attracts us to them? There are a few different ways to answer this question. Lundy found that watching these types of shows not only provided entertainment value but also an “escape from reality in that they could project themselves into the situations portrayed on the show and figure out what they would do” (Hall, 2009). People like to role-play and put themselves in hypothetical situations. Therefore it is not surprising that this is one of the reasons people tune into watch. Likewise, a study by Reiss and Wiltz concluded that “The more status-oriented people are, the more likely they are to view reality television and report pleasure and enjoyment…people who are motivated by status have an above-average need to feel self-important”. In other words, we tune in to watch the show to feel better about ourselves. We look at the family in Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and say to ourselves, ‘well thank god I do not live like that’, or while watching Are You the One? some one might think ‘she is so ratchet, I’m much more classy than her!’ We do not always like to admit it, but bad reality TV makes us to feel as if we have higher status than these reality TV stars.
Does reality TV have an effect on us as a society, and do most of know that much of what we are watching is scripted? While I argued that many adolescents might not know that what they are watching is not 100% real, most of us are aware that the show is set up to be entertaining. Hall notes that, “…the action plays out in a context where the people know they are being filmed, and the events of many of the most successful shows (e.g., Joe Millionaire, Survivor) are set up by the producers for the explicit purpose of creating a show. These elements of artificiality are not lost on viewers” (Hall, 2006). Therefore, many of us do know that we are watching is in my opinion actually more fiction than reality.
In the end, reality TV will be a booming business as long as we keep watching, and this is not likely to change any time soon. “Junk food” as I call it, whether used literally or figuratively just tasted too damn good! Much of what we watch does not make us smarter or more intelligent but it is very entertaining, and people like to be entertained. As long as reality shows appeal to our senses and stimulates our pleasures, junk food is not going anywhere any time soon.
Hall, Alice. "Perceptions of the Authenticity of Reality Programs and Their Relationships to Audience Involvement, Enjoyment, and Perceived Learning." Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 53.4 (2009): 515-31. Dec. 2009. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.
Hall, Alice. "Viewers' Perceptions of Reality Programs." Communications Quarterly 54.2 (2006): 191-211. May 2006. Web.
Mazzeo, Suzanne E., Sara E. Trace, Karen S. Mitchell, and Rachel Walker Gow. Effects of a Reality TV Cosmetic Surgery Makeover Program on Eating Disorder Attitudes and Behaviors. Www.sciencedirect.com. Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University, 16 June 2006. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.
Patino, Anthony, Velitchka D. Kaltcheva, and Michael F. Smith. "The Appeal of Reality Television For Teen and Pre-Teen Audiences." Journal of Advertising Research (2011): n. pag. Mar. 2011. Web.
Reiss, Steven, and James Wiltz. Why People Watch Reality TV. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2004. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.