Brendan Whitt


Why Can't we Quit Reality T.V.

In 1992 MTV premiered their groundbreaking television series The Real World. The brain child of the late Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray placed seven to eight young adults from 18-25 in a house together where their lives would be taped. The show garnered high praise for their discussion and depictions of issues that affected the youth at the time such as sex, AIDS, substance abuse, race and religion.

I can faintly remember when I was in middle school in the early 2000’s when some old British rocker and his family had a show on MTV. The Osbournes continued what the Real World started while ushering in a new age of American television. A year after The Osbourne’s premiered, a group of washed up starts including rapper MC Hammer, Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe and former child star Emmanuel Lewis all moved into a house and lived together while the cameras rolled.

Today Reality TV is the new norm. An un-official study from the late 2000’s reported that around 12.5% of all LA entertainment jobs were tied to reality shows. It also claimed that 40% of all on-location production was that of  Reality shows. The most staggering statistic was that 57% of all television shows were Reality TV shows.

While my source isn’t reputable I do believe we can all agree that the numbers probably aren’t too far off from the real numbers. The question most people especially non-watchers of reality TV is “why do people watch these types of shows?” The answers are simple.

Professor of Psychology and consultant of a 2012 Today survey, David Frederick believes “we are likely hardwired to seek out information on how other people deal with conflicts, family, friends and mating.”

When it was time to break down the numbers 70% of the survey’s respondents were ages 19-29 meaning younger people watch reality television more than anyone else. Which makes sense because of the time frame of when reality television became popular with The Real World and other shows like Road Rules or Survivor.  Women were also found more likely to watch Reality with 49% of women compared to 24% of men.

Dr. Frederick continued by saying “Reality TV provides one source of information regarding what makes some people more susceptible to being manipulated, what makes them more prestigious, and how to survive in dangerous situations [Man versus Wild],” We get to see how other people live compared to how we live. How do little people live normally everyday (TLC‘s Little People)? What do the Kardashians do for vacation (Keeping up with the Kardashians)? How do people work their way up the corporate ladder? (The Apprentice).

“These shows appeal to a very basic human need for information about social relationships”, Frederick added. Another huge factor is the fact that television is ratings based. If a million people enjoy watching the Kardashians every week then why not run it? Another explanation could be that this is how America gauges it’s moral compass. The ignorance a person displays can give some people a mirrior image of how they live and possibly evoke change. It can also raise social awareness of learning to be wary of who is watching you and what they may perceive of you in doing so, especially in this world where we document our lives and broadcast them on Facebook, Instagram, Pintrest, Tumblr, etc.

All in all like I say with most things, it’s just entertainment. Little of what we see is real and all of it is staged. I’d say don’t fret. The next boom of television genres is probably peeking over the horizon.