Reality TV is cheap. That’s why there is so much of it on television today. Over the past decade or so, Reality TV has reformed so-called “arts” or assumed high-brow networks into low-brow pop-cultural phenomenons. An example of this is the television network A&E – or what was known as the arts and entertainment network. Gone are the days when A&E would showcase biographies, documentaries and drama series to focus on the decline of arts and entertainment on television. After the influx of Reality TV shows due to cheap production, A&E quickly changed their tune. Now the network is known for shows like Dog the Bounty Hunter and Chris Angel Mindfreak. TLC was once known as “The Learning Channel”. The same goes for the Bravo Network which began as an advertisement-free premium channel dedicated to the performing arts and indie films. It’s almost impossible today to think of Bravo today without conjuring up images of The Real House Wives of… Reunions past.
So why do millions of Americans tune in to Reality TV shows every week? Why do I have The Real Housewives of New Jersey on my DVR? The first question I can address right now without the need to soul-search, and that it because Reality TV is difficult to escape. It’s everywhere, not only on the cover of tabloids, but also available 24-hours online. According to an article in Psychology Today, one of the appeals of Reality TV is it’s pop-culture relativity. Reality TV is embedded into our country’s pop-cultural dialogue and thus it can be relative to just about any water cooler convo at the office.
Viewers who associate with the likes of Reality TV also can identify with the desire for status and prestige celebrity and fame promise. The Real Housewives of…, Jersey Shore, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo every week we give these shows our attention and witness ordinary people (okay… somewhat ordinary people) achieve celebrity status. Then views can immediately fantasize about how they, too, can achieve instant status through Reality TV fame.
According to the same article in Psychology Today, the desire for status is just a means to get attention. So what does that say about the millions of Americans who tune in? Are we not getting enough attention? Possibly, and this leads us into tricky waters. Because an unidentified, or even an identified but unanswered need leaves a person vulnerable. And when a person is vulnerable, they become impressionable. And when they are impressionable, they are impressed upon. By Reality TV.