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Reality Television: A Real Success or Just a Passing Trend? Essay Sample

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Reality Television: A Real Success or Just a Passing Trend? Essay Sample

            Reality T.V., you see it, read about it, and can hear about it in nearly every corner of the nation today. From television screens to cell phone browsers, the media has flooded our lives with programs about love, money, success and survival. The so called “reality” that the media producers splice, edit and paste together to fabricate our modern entertainment brings up questions about TV viewers and our society. Some of the questions including, who watches reality programs?; why do they watch them?; and what impacts do these shows have on viewers? will be examined to determine the answer to a larger question: Is reality television a real success or just a passing trend in the media business? Apparently, whether you love it or hate it, reality television has developed into a positive media trend that will remain a success in the future.

            First, it appears that reality programs occur as a real success because nearly everyone in America across gender, viewing age, education and race, watches some form of reality TV. It is hard not to when so many different programs avail themselves not only on our televisions, but also twenty-four hours a day on the internet as well. Some where, there exists a reality TV show playing for everyone even now. Given the fact that USA Today states, “There are three major categories within the reality genre: game shows (e.g., “Survivor”), dating shows (e.g., “The Bachelor”), and talent shows (e.g., “American Idol”)” (Frisby 2004), it appears that capturing a diverse audience plays a central role in the media’s new frenzy to produce more and more captivating television situations to air. The fact that reality television prevails as a media success reveals itself through the staggering numbers; numbers of American viewers which grew so large that they rivaled those of the Super Bowl (Psychology Today).

            However, even if individuals do not watch television or browse the internet, they still can expose themselves to the new reality programs in such magazines as People, which had the series “Temptation Island,” published on the cover while even The New York Post advertised “Survivor” on the front page. The media trend spreads itself even further yet. In the Journal of Communication, it is stated that, “It [reality TV] has affected not only American TV but has also had a big impact on British television and has spread to numerous other countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa” (226). Apparently Americans do not stand alone in their new fixation, other viewers across the globe have been upswept by the craze as well. The success of the media with the promotion of its reality TV programs again proves itself, much like a pandemic. Everyone seems to be infected with the reality-TV-watching virus.

            Consequently, the reasons why people watch this type of program tells us something about how the programs continue to be a huge success. The motives for audience members to watch reality programs on a regular basis were once thought to revolve around their desires to have something to talk about with friends and co-workers (Psychology Today). In fact, according to Cynthia Frisby of USA Today, CBS adheres to the philosophy that, “the same element of being human that encourages people to gossip about the lives of their friends, family, and even total strangers is what fosters an audience for reality television” (USA Today Getting Real with Reality TV 2004). The validity of this idea remains unproven as researchers attempt to delve more deeply into the causes and effects of reality TV on viewers. Here, even unintentionally, the media trend extends itself again beyond the “regular” audience, to researchers who now publish books about Reality television and why people feel so inclined to watch.

            Incidentally, surveys conducted by the popular magazines, Psychology Today and USA Today reveal that the thriving trend of reality TV will most likely continue; due to the fact that viewers sacrifice their attention to the television for more than just mere gossip material. Watching reality programs actually make viewers feel good. Like a nice strong cup of coffee, the entertainment provided by watching other “real people” struggle through situations seems to perk up viewer’s moods considerably. USA Today constructed a “uses and gratification” survey that 110 people (both viewers and non-viewers of reality TV) participated in. The results found that when they asked the participants to view a segment of reality TV the following results appeared, “We then compared mood ratings obtained prior to viewing the reality show with those from immediately following exposure to the program. Analysis clearly indicated that regular viewers and no viewers alike experienced a significant mood enhancement after exposure to reality television” (USA Today Getting Real with Reality TV 2004). Could reality shows be the next alternative to Prozac? Most likely not, but the ideas that these shows convey to the public has the very-special-something ingredients that gets watchers “hooked” almost immediately.

            So what makes reality TV a booster for viewer’s moods? That, researchers speculate, comes from the human tendency to compare themselves to others (USA Today). According to Frisby, two types of social comparison occur. The first, “upward comparison” happens when individuals compare themselves to others with higher status, or better lifestyles. By comparing oneself to another this way, the individual may learn from the chosen role model, or be inspired to achieve similar goals. The second type of social comparison, “downward comparison” occurs when individuals compare themselves to someone with lower status or more difficult life circumstances. By comparing oneself in this manner, individuals may find that their own problems seem relatively menial when looking at the grim conditions that someone else faces. (USA Today Getting Real with Reality TV 2004). So, reality TV offers viewers a mode through which they can compare themselves, and be either inspired or uplifted via the participants situations. Not quite Prozac, but certainly this has some very significant influences over viewers.

            Looking closer at the ideas that reality television conveys will expose some of the reasons why viewers around the world can get “hooked” on programs that continue to feed the media’s flourishing success. First, there exists the illusion that footage shown reveals the “real” occurrences and interactions between the program contestants. However, the complexity of the project runs much deeper than audiences might expect. Editors spend most of their time sifting through hours of film trying to cut and paste together all the best parts captured on tape. They need to put together  “those clips that best tell the story and create a heightened sense of drama that holds the viewers’ attention for that episode as well as the entire season” (Post Editing Reality TV 2005). Viewers, of course, realize that you cannot fit an entire day’s events into one hour episodes, so the question arises about the validity of just how much of the drama remains true, and how much the editor’s created through their artistic quilt work of the scenes they choose to show.

            The second idea that reality television conveys to viewers creates the most powerful impact and may contain the answer to why the media’s success in the realm of reality TV. This second idea portrayed by reality programs expresses to viewers that normal, average and everyday people can gain the status of celebrities, millionaires and business connoisseurs. This idea gains support from Steve Reiss and James Wilt, in Psychology Today who expand upon it by saying, “Reality TV allows Americans to fantasize about gaining status through automatic fame. Ordinary people can watch the shows, see people like themselves and imagine that they too could become celebrities by being on television” (Psychology Today Why Americans Love Reality TV 2001).  These two authors suspect that the addicting aspect of reality TV lies in the fact that, “The message of reality television is that ordinary people can become so important that millions will watch them. And the secret thrill of many of those viewers is the thought that perhaps next time, the new celebrities might be them” (Psychology Today Why Americans Love Reality TV 2001).

            Overall, reality television has developed into a positive media trend that will remain a success in the future. By catering to a diverse audience, then reaching beyond normal audiences to researcher, as well as producing shows that make people feel good about themselves, creating a “reality” for viewers where average people gain status, fame, and fortune, the media has fashioned a phenomenal genre of television that provides a new form of entertainment. The question about whether reality TV will continue as a positive trend in the business world seems clear. With the advancing technologies putting episodes of “Survivor” or “Hell’s Kitchen” in our cars, on our computer screens and in our pockets, the opportunities to view seem endless. The question about whether reality TV will continue to be a positive trend for the audience remains unclear. One might wonder just how “unrealistic” these programs will become as producers look for new topics to peddle to viewers.

            Subsequently, while reality TV has proven its success, there remain countless spin-offs that this genre introduces for the world. How long until you or anyone else decides to pick up their digital video recorder and begin documenting their everyday lives? Without the glamour of being able to win a prize or the competition between players, will the interest level still exist? That remains doubtful. No matter how “real” the shows on our television try to appear, the fact that outside incentives, scripted goals, and fabricated environments keeps the proposed events from ever touching the true status of reality. If our lives became one big game show, would we really need television to keep us entertained anyways?

Works Cited

Frisby, Cynthia M. “Getting real with Reality TV.” USA Today (Society for the Advancement of     Education) September 2004. Retrieved online  29 April 2006             {http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1272/is_2712_133/ai_n6198026}

Journal of Communication. Vol. 56  p226. March 2006. Retrieved online 29 April 2006     {http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1460-  2466.2006.00014.x?cookieSet=1}

Kienzle, Claudia. “Editing reality TV: editors sift through mountains of footage to find the real- life drama that makes this format so popular.” Post Jan. 2005. Retrieved online 30 April             2006 {http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0HNN/is_1_20/ai_n9525548}

Reiss, Stephen & Wiltz, James. “Why America loves reality TV – Feature – Brief Article.”      Psychology Today Sept-Oct 2001.  Retrieved online 30 April 2006             {http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1175/is_5_34/ai_82261905}

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