Reality Television has Significant Adverse Outcomes for Society

Abstract

Television influences viewers in a number of ways, for instance entrenching new behaviors in society. A number of effects of TV on viewers are negative, but when television broadcasts positive messages it can also result in a positive impact. Reality television shows are one of the fastest growing sectors in the TV and entertainment industry. They cover various life issues including health and medicine, beauty, fashion, food and nutrition, relationships, weight, and adventure. Although reality television has positive impacts such providing motivation to change or modify negative lifestyles such as smoking and weight gain, this paper argues out that reality TV has effects that are more negative than positive on society. For instance, reality TV glorifies fame, cash and aesthetics over other human qualities such as hard work. It encourages uncouth, offensive language, callousness, sexual immorality, and alcohol and drug abuse. Reality TV thus has significant adverse effects for society’s well-being.

Keywords. Reality TV, society outcomes, influence on behavior.

 

Over the last few decades, a pioneering kind of television entertainment has burst into the limelight – reality shows. Although reality television shows have been in existence since the advent of the TV, in the modern times they have taken a complete new perspective. Presently, audiences can pick from a variety of reality shows on any particular day (Randall & Wood, 2005). The permeating realm of these shows has amused and thrilled viewers globally. Ranging from the bizarre and sordid, such as Fear Factor and The Anna Nicole Show, to the conventional quests among groups or individuals competing to take home hefty loads of cash and fame such as Survivor series, American Idol and Big Brother, reality TV has become a channel to entrench a new adverse culture in society (Huff, 2010). It has become a means through which, otherwise bad behavior, is glorified and made acceptable as this paper demonstrates in subsequent sections.

There are diverse categories of reality television including fear-centered shows, fame-reality, escapade and exploration shows, health and medicine shows, prank-reality, game shows, talent search, elimination and career-hunts. Therefore, the audience of reality shows varies widely, covering diverse age sets and preferences owing to the variety of themes existing in such shows. Reality TV shows, unlike the conventional TV shows, are modeled as unscripted and apparently real-time spontaneous performances (Huff, 2010). They feature the average “real” or “ordinary” individuals rather than professional or trained actors. Seemingly, the impact of this sort of showbiz that threatens society’s moral and social foundations may persist as evident from an increasing number and nature of reality TV shows that TV networks are producing. Whereas it could appear as fun to sections of society, reality television shows mainly set a bad example. They make bad behavior acceptable by popularizing such behavior to a vulnerable audience. Rarely do reality TV shows popularize virtues that have held people together over generations such as hard work, patience and concern for others.

Reality TV shows pulls audiences from nearly all demographic clusters, but statistics indicate that it is more popular amongst preteens, teenagers and young adults (Hill, 2005). This popularity and fame amongst young individuals raises a special concern. Experts on pre-teenage and adolescent issues explain that reality television exposes these youngsters, particularly 8 to 15 year-olds to a significant risk. This is because they are still in quest of and engrossing guidance for their fast developing sense of personal identity (Hill, 2005). Besides, these youngsters, unlike adults, have a less likelihood of understanding the contrived nature of reality shows, and are thus more likely to take the messages depicted in these shows at face value. Research indicates that most reality shows project immoral content such as exposure to sex and violence, immoral impressions concerning love and relationships and exaltation of negative behavior (Levak, 2003). The young audiences are still in the phase of life where they are forming their personality and integrating themselves into the world around them. Television contributes significantly to that process with alternative social structures in society where such learning can proceed becoming less influential. Therefore, reality TV programs with negative content have the opportunity to impart vices on the next generation and, eventually, lead to a generation with no sense of morality, ethics and social conduct.

For regular people who have dreams of being celebrities and making fortunes, reality television offers an opportunity to achieve fame and celebrity status in a short time. However, as noted in some studies, reality TV does not create real fame or celebrities; rather, it creates pseudo-celebrities leading to the degradation of popular taste (Blair, Yue, Singh & Bernhardt, 2005). According to Levak (2003), reality programs reflect Shame TV since they use humiliation as their central appeal. Reality TV programs are often grossly humiliating, exposing the contestants to cruel, demeaning and embarrassing treatment for the audience’s enjoyment. An example of such a tenet is the controversy over racism that is prevalent in Big Brother shows (Blair et al., 2005).
The popularity of reality TV arises from aspects such as economic pursuits of TV companies at the expense of social responsibility and the preoccupation of individuals with fairy tales of easily acquired wealth and fame. The TV networks, for instance, avoid the cost associated with hiring professional actors by using the average citizenry in reality shows (Randall & Wood, 2005). Additionally, claims emerge more often of TV networks failing to recognize the authors of such shows adequately and offering them lower remuneration when compared with union-advised rates (Levak, 2003). For the participants, the opportunity for instantaneous fame or cash rewards impairs their ability to evaluate whether gains following participation offer a good return for sacrifices they might have to make on other aspects of their lives. It is out of such aspects that reality TV has been advanced to derive its growth from fraud, exploitation and manipulation of the contestants and writers (Hill, 2005).

Another concern with reality TV is the validity of some of the issues they portray to be true in the shows. Reality TV programs may broadcast inaccurate information to audience, for instance, depicting that multiple plastic surgeries are possible or that one can achieve rapid weight loss than most specialists would vouch for. In the reality show The Biggest Loser, it is for instance portrayed that one could achieve drastic weight loss in a few months without any severe consequences whereas most weight-reduction programs based on scientific evidence advise on a more prolonged gradual and sustainable weight-loss regimen (Hull, 2010). Audiences who watch individuals achieve such drastic goals are highly likely to be discouraged and dejected if they cannot achieve them in their own lives, and consequently such individuals have a lower likelihood of obligating to the long-lasting and far more gradual changes that experts recommend. In addition, such unrealistic results are very likely to compel some participants as well as audiences of reality televisions to engage in risky, unhealthy and life threatening behaviors and practices. For instance, if contestants lose over 30 pounds in just a week, they increase the risk of cardiac disorders, osteoporosis (loss of bone mass) and disturbance of normal electrolyte balance (Levak, 2003). Some participants on The Biggest Loser reality TV program have confessed to starving and dehydrating themselves to lose weight, and a couple have been hospitalized after collapsing during a one-and-a half kilometer race (Huff, 2010).

In conclusion, reality television often depicts a modified and exceedingly influenced form of reality. Contestants placed in atypical situations are, at times tutored to perform in a given manner by off-screen trainers and televised events manipulated after initial production to achieve a desired effect on the audience. Though purely for entertainment purposes, most are lacking in substance and debasing. When subjected to a vulnerable audience, such programs may however impart adverse behaviors to such an audience. Accordingly, such programs ought to be controlled, if not proscribed in totality.

References

Blair, N. A., Yue, S. K., Singh, R. & Bernhardt, J. M. (2005). Depictions of substance use in reality television: A content analysis of the osbournes. British Medical Journal, 331, 1517-1519.

Levak, R. (2003). The dangerous reality of reality television. Television Week, 22 (38).

Hill, A. (2005). Reality TV: Audiences and popular factual television. London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.

Huff, R. M. (2010). Reality television. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Randall L. R. & Wood, S.W. (2005). Paradox and the consumption of authenticity through reality television. Journal of Consumer Research, 32, 284-296.

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