Reality Television Research Paper

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Reality Television

Television: the ever evolving medium:

Television's growth as an edutainment medium has been phenomenal. In societies that are more developed, TV adores the living room of almost every household. TV viewing has been the leading recreational activity for majority of population with U.S. household reported to be glued to their TV sets for almost seven hours daily on an average. Even though TV ownership in Asia and Latin America are low compared to U.S., these continents and Africa as well has been targeted as the important regions of growth of global TV industry during the 21st century. In the public domain, TV has come to occupy a venue for political debate, religious evangelism and the exchange of 'news' as also an important medium for entertainment. In the household sphere, TV has been considered as the quasi-altar during the single channel regime around which the family used to converge and the forerunner of domestic fragmentation in the present multi-channel era as everybody slips into different rooms to watch their favorite channel in private. (Casey; Casey, et. al, 26)

What is Reality TV?

Annually, TV networks compete to create the latest in content. Fresh shows guarantee high drama, suspense and comedy while trying to regulate what is morally and socially acceptable, enjoyable, thrilling and entertaining all at the same time. Fulfilling all these benchmarks as per the rising ratings is the realty-based TV. Realty TV is a class of programming wherein the daily routines of "real life" people as against fictional characters are captured by the cameras. Viewers get glued to the enthralling plotlines and routines drama shown on their screens. Three major categories are there in the reality-based shows. These are game shows - Survivors, dating shows- The Bachelor, and talent shows-American Idol. The popularity of these shows is because viewers get to see ordinary people stealing the limelight, instead of monotonously seeing film stars. Besides, the element of being human that urges people to gossip on the topic revolving around their lives of their friends, family and complete strangers also encourages an audience for reality TV. An opportunity to peep into other people's lives which is sometimes interesting and based on this theory MTV produced "The Real World" that is often credited to be the pioneer of reality TV shows. Seven complete strangers are chosen to live together, and viewers watch to discover the happenings when people with varied backgrounds and temperament are left to live closely. (Frisby, 7)

Effect of Reality TV on society and effect on popular American culture:

Societal effect can be understood by drawing from the social comparison theory which postulates that people have an impetus or a need to compare their capabilities and opinion to other people. Leon Festinger coined the social comparison theory and spearheaded research in this field and regarded that people who are unsure regarding their potential and views will tend to evaluate themselves by juxtaposing with others. Comparisons made with others who are superior to or in better conditions than oneself are pointed out as 'upward comparison'. People involved in upward comparison might learn from others, get inspiration from their feats and get high motivation to attain similar goals. Upward comparison suggested by research is drawn up when a person is motivated to change or surmount difficulties. Self-improvement has been the primary effect of an upward comparison as the targets viewed on TV serve as role models, educating and motivating people to attain or overcome similar circumstances. Similarly, social comparison involving a target who is inferior or incapable is given as downward comparison. Its fundamental ideal is that people feel better regarding their own situation and improve their subjective welfare while making comparison with that of others who are worse off. This seemingly happens as 'downward comparisons' help people cope with personal problems by permitting them to visualize themselves and their problems in an increasingly positive light through the realization that there are other people who experience more hard situations. (Frisby, 7)

Reality TV has a bad for the society because the show centre is on what is known as the 'guilt pleasure syndrome'. According to sociology professor, Mark Fishman of Brooklyn College who has completed a study on reality TV, it encourages people to take delight on the misfortunes of others. It is a guilty pleasure. One feels that one must not be watching. It's all the time been in good taste to overlook these matters. It is moral envelope which is being pushed. We appear to be in a modern age of making aware what should not have been. In the present society with huge technological revolution of home computing and the Internet, and with the fresh interest in free speech and the protection of the arts, an increasing number of people are finding interesting which three decades back would have been regarded as obscene. The guilt pleasure conclusion is self-explanatory in its majority. While purity of free speech can be explained, but in today's society an increasing number of people appear to be exercising what is known as the assumed right to unhindered speech. (Soong, Reality Television)

As against free speech, that aims to actually make a remark regarding a topic, or contribute a thought that merits considering in spite of the personal benefits, free noisemakers are motivated to sensationalize and shock behind a barrier of pretentious "art" mystique which they wrongly believe gives then an automatic air of believability. Hence American popular culture cannot persist to value entertainment which by design seeks not to inform. The main objective of mass communication must change to morph into entertainment vehicle along with enlightenment, or else we shall move in the direction of an uninformed resurgence in which Television Rating Points -- TRPs and advertisement happen to be the only currency. The concept of reality TV has several inherent flaws, both in its idea and reach and what it involves for our attitudes in society in it totality. (Soong, Reality Television)

The unreal 'Reality TV':

The debate regarding the reality and otherwise constitutes the big issue in case of popular factual television. The two issues of performance and authenticity is important as the performance of non-professional actors sometimes frames discussion regarding the authenticity of visual evidence in popular reality TV. The manner in which real people and their accounts are depicted on television is closely associated with our judgment regarding the genuineness of visual evidence. To call upon the work of Brian Winston in 1995, 'claiming the real' is a usual practice of reality programming, however there is scanty interrogation of these claims of truth in the programs themselves. TV audiences are definitely conscious of the methods by which television 'cooks' reality and discuss regarding the manner in which several formats, or editing techniques are able to create different intensities of 'reality' in popular factual TV shows. But the viewers of reality programming have increased likelihood to discuss about the truth of what they are viewing in relation to the manner in which real people act before television cameras. The more the ordinary people are believed to act for the cameras, the less real the program stuff appears to be before the viewers. Therefore, performance comes to be a powerful framing device for detecting reality TVs claims to be real. (Hill, 61)

Moreover, TV audiences are highly skeptical as regards the truth claims of majority of reality programming exactly as they suppose they hope people to 'act' so that reality TV becomes entertaining. Central to the debate is regarding the 'reality' of reality TV which is essentially a paradox. This is because, the more entertaining a reality program, it becomes far from reality. It is important to note that heritage of documentary works in reality TV, albeit in 'partial and revised' form. The partial and revised factual constituents of reality TV are taken from documentary genres like observational documentary, and serve to place the reality into popular reality TV. (Hill, 61)

Since long, research professionals have debated that TV doles us with half-truths by just showing only the crime which is interesting, thrilling or exciting. A lot of studies have backed this claim and prove that the 'typical criminal' and the 'typical crime' reported on TV news and police dramas bear scanty similarity to reality. It has been overwhelmingly seen that media is inclined to over-represent violent crimes and nonviolent offenses or property crimes get less footage. The misrepresentation of crime might be seen on news program, dramas involving crime and the new genre of 'reality' television programs. Whereas news program assert to be objective and precise, their coverage of crime concentrates on crime which are unusual and violent. This puts a bad effect on society especially children watching them. In a latest analysis of crime news, it has been noted that items which are news worthy are stated to be those which are extraordinary. (Fishman; Cavender, 108)

News media absence of attention to increasingly characteristic types of crime gives viewers with an indistinct view of the problem…[continue]

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