Reality television constructs situations that expose the very essence of the human psyche. What happens if two people who hate each other find themselves trapped in a room together? How does the beauty queen react when the ugly duckling steals her man? While it may be semi-scripted or even staged entirely, surely that alone doesn’t make it any less credible than a work of fiction? And if not, why to most people is Big Brother (the reality show) a lesser work of art than George Orwell’s 1984?
We all have our own definition of what constitutes art; therefore, the question “what is art?” isn’t really worth answering. “What is ‘good’ art?” might be more appropriate. In my opinion art itself is nothing more than the act of creation, while ‘good art’ evokes a feeling from within me. And although I hate to admit it, reality television can do exactly that. Despite taking it all with a pinch of salt, even I can feel emotional during an X-Factor montage, or anger at Lauren Conrad’s best friend for flirting with her chap.
We watch reality television with a pre-conception of disbelief. We understand and acknowledge that the melodramatic, amped-up characters are playing the tabloid game, desperately seeking fame. Nobody minds the exaggerated personalities, dramatized settings and behind-the-scenes manipulation. We’re not gullible; we simply don’t find excitement in the truth. But why on earth does it trigger an emotional reaction?
At the heart of it, reality television is an expression of the truth; therefore, it’s not so different to a surrealistic painting — although the creative world probably wouldn’t appreciate it if I started comparing the works of Picasso to Jedward. But just like good fictional characters often stem from heightened stereotypes, good reality television exposes all those embarrassing personality traits and opinions that we tend to keep bottled up inside, at least the ‘socially aware’ proportion of us. So while we cringe at reality stars, they make us feel kinda normal.
Reality Television Will Continue to Grow
Reality television has turned into a massive industry. Paris Hilton and the Kardashian clan have used the platform, along with their socialite status, to amass an empire that would leave any business mogul salivating — and that’s commendable. We can roll our eyes, laugh and feel disgusted at their lifestyles, but what they’re doing is not dissimilar to what we all do on social media through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We document our lives for all to see, yet shake our heads when others do the very same thing on television, and feel angry that they’re monetising fame.
While many of us hoped that the whole reality television thing was just a fad, the truth is, it’s not only bigger than ever, but the digital environment is creating a perfect breeding ground for the medium. Last year in the United States, telecoms company AT&T announced a new TV Everywhere strategy, aiming to make content available on all platforms (wireless, satellite and cable broadband). Imagine being able to keep 24 hour tabs on your favourite reality show, and not even needing a television, or to tune in at a specific time — like Big Brother Live times one thousand. That’s where we’re heading. With video streaming services, Facebook live, and access to mobile content 24 hours a day, reality television is no longer reserved for the Gogglebox. In fact, the phrase reality ‘television’ hardly seems fitting anymore. Perhaps reality ‘mobile’ or reality ‘broadcasting’ would be more suitable?
Reality Television has a Firm Grasp Over Modern Culture
Reality television is often considered the lowest form of television entertainment. But it really is an unstoppable force with a massive influence over society. When UK polling company Into the Blue, asked 1,000 16-year-olds “what would you like to do for a career?” 56% answered “become a celebrity,” with almost a quarter of them hoping to achieve their ambitions through a reality television show. Additionally, 70% of the population has gone on record stating that they watch reality television (note the phrase ‘on record’). And lest not forget, the leader of the free world, President Trump, pretty much owes his most recent gig to his appearances on The Apprentice.
Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying that reality television has a firm grasp over modern culture, perhaps more so than any other art form. In fact, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say it has changed the world… surely that makes it legitimate?
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