Shows like “The Soup” with Joel McHale make fun of reality shows while being on the same network as they are. There is an entire network devoted only to showing reality shows, The Reality Show Network. Activities from tattoo parlors to motorcycle places are on reality shows. Many times these shows actually interact with each other as in a recent episode of “Jon and Kate Plus 8” where Jon wanted to get a motorcycle and he went to the Motorcycle Guys where he put together his own custom made cycle. Then they delivered the cycle and made one for Kate. Being Kate she decided to ride it and then donate it to a charity, McDonald House. Meanwhile, the Motorcycle Guys, who have their own show were also featured on this one.
So many people watch this show that after the last episode when Jon and Kate decided to get these Crooked Houses for the kids, the manufacturers of the houses received a lot of business from viewers who had seen the houses and wanted them. On one of the older episodes Jon and Kate answered emails from viewers. They get endless emails and when they go out in public as Kate is now doing on her book signing tour, fans are always there. What makes these shows so popular? Should we examine this phenomenon to see if there is anything to be learned from it? Or is it just the armchair mentality of people who once sat on their front porches and viewed the activities of their neighbors? Are people becoming armchair voyeurs?
When the first reality show, “The Louds” debuted the American public had never seen a show quite like it. There were no actors and no real plots. It was basically watching the every day activities of a so – called typical American family. We saw the happy times and the angry times. The camera never stopped filming unless it was a personal privacy issue. The Loud family dissembled in this unrelenting focus on themselves. Yet this didn’t stop the networks from continuing to put on similar shows. However, the furor over these shows didn’t really start until the big networks got involved. Probably MTV with its Real World shows that were so popular with young adults may have been the culprit.
All of a sudden the lives of regular people who were not related to each other were placed in the camera’s lens. Their every emotion was examined by not only the group but themselves in personal interviews meant only for the viewers. Group dynamics and the lifestyles of some of these people created a great deal of drama. A lot of drinking went on and though these people were supposedly monitored their activities sometimes went beyond the law into a gray area. Kids were riveted to the screen when Real World came on and couldn’t wait for the next episode. But older adults were not paying that much attention to these shows. It wasn’t until shows like “The Bachelor” became popular on network TV that older adults were drawn into watching them.
Networks like Bravo and TLC realized that people would watch the lives of people and possibly when “The Ozbornes” became so popular TV executives began to think about more reality shows. The Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie show highlighted how low the content could go and still have people watching. Shows like “What Not to Wear” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” had more of a plot, but they still used real people in real situations.
The latest incarnation of reality shows is a wide spectrum of both interest and taste. Shows that allow women and men to be shown in compromising situations such as in “Flava of Love” or “Daisy of Love” are side by side with ones like “The Fashion Show”, “Project Runway”, “The Next Top Model” and “Jon and Kate Plus 8”. On TLC there is also a show devoted to watching the lives of the vertically challenged, “The Little People.” There have also been shows that were dedicated to changing mean girls into nicer people. And “Real World vs. Road Rules” which is a contest pitting each participant against the other in grueling and sometimes disgusting contests. The people in this show are competing for a large prize, but they are also put into teams and have to decide each other’s fate.At any moment the fate of each person there can change and they could be going home. In each of these shows every minute detail of these people’s lives is seen and the viewer follows them from morning to night with the camera recording every moment.
If a person watches too many of these reality shows they begin to blend into each other. Yet once watched you can sometimes become addicted to them. What is it that addicts people? Is it watching them as they go through their days? Perhaps it’s a check to see if their lives are anything like yours. In the last “Real Housewives of New Jersey” the women’s lives didn’t even seem real. One woman had a home built that had marble floors and walls. Another had a husband who owned a catering facility and the women did basically nothing except take care of themselves and fight. The viewer had to watch each episode, because these women didn’t behave like anyone in most people’s lives. Millions of people watched these programs. Unfortunately, this writer was one of them, but each episode was watched with an expression of disbelief. Why were the people who schedule TV programs subjecting the viewers to these women?
Finally, is this fascination with the bizarre lives of these reality show people just like rubbernecking on the highway? Could it be that the viewers are just curious to see how far these reality show people will go or perhaps be pushed to go? Are they being scripted or is this their real life? When one woman at a very sedate dinner party at a restaurant became so infuriated with another that she actually tipped over a table, was this real or was it staged for the show? When “The Real Housewives of New York” began to bait Kelly and turned a cold shoulder to her, was that also staged? Or was it a real situation that had occurred?
Maybe this last point is the real reason people watch reality shows. No one is sure whether or not what they are seeing is really true. For instance, Jon and Kate recently told the press that they had been separated for the full two years of the show. Yet it seemed that they were a couple. Watching these shows can make your assumptions about life turn upside down. In shows like “The Hills” vapid, uninteresting people talked in monosyllables and swallowed their words. Yet the stars became huge celebrities. The stars also said that the episodes were scripted. Are the lives of ordinary people so boring that they need to watch the fake lives of other people to escape? Is it after all a way to escape their own lives? Perhaps watching the day to day activities of other people who are not connected to the viewer in any way is like watching an accident on the road as you pass it by. How many of you haven’t made up a story to explain the scene?As mentioned before, are the viewing public only rubbernecking? In the end are TV watchers basically only voyeurs?