Route 66 Installment #13: Reality TV and the Realities of Entertainment TodayReading Time: 3 minutes
This seems especially timely because the shocking “Chris Rock face-slap moment” at the Oscars is today’s virtual water cooler topic.
TV is now jam-packed with violent moments — real and staged.
In fact, we aren’t even sure we know the difference anymore between reality and acting.
During that dramatic Oscars moment, I switched to a two-screen experience, monitoring what the Twittersphere was saying about what was happening. After all, what is reality on the small screen these days?
Here are some truly terrifying stats:
- At least a third of us watch reality television (even if we don’t admit to it)
- Reality TV is one of the most popular genres in streaming entertainment
- The genre can have a significant negative impact on mental health.
Then and Now…
I grew up in an era when Candid Camera and its well-meaning pranks were probably the meanest and rawest form of TV on our meager three channels. And Johnny Carson could be snarky at times, but I never saw him up-end his desk or punch out a guest.
Game shows were generally upbeat and didn’t involve people being naked and afraid, injured while competing in dangerous feats, or reduced to a sobbing blob of misery because they didn’t get a rose from a total stranger or because their “boyfriend” slept with multiple people.
Does Reality TV Reflect Who We Are or Make Us Uglier?
I confess that I have (like many people around the world) gotten hooked on a handful of shows. On the bright side:
- Like NFTs, they give unknown people an opportunity to showcase their talents to a huge audience. Think about those performers who got their starts on American Idol!
- Some reality shows can be upbeat and aspirational. Whenever a near-bankrupt contestant wins a baking or fashion competition or scores big on a game show, we cheer and maybe even weep along with them. Queen for a Day was my generation’s equivalent.
- Like Aesop’s Fables, they may contain relevant life lessons and may give rise to lots of social media discourse about rights, wrongs, and suitable punishments. I find myself discussing reality TV “characters” with my friends as if they are real people — not unlike the soap opera characters our parents grew up with.
Now on to the dark side of reality TV…
- It can give rise to body image issues. People now spend $17 billion on plastic surgery.
- Watching women exhibit aggressive behavior, bullying, and gossiping perpetuates a negative image for younger girl viewers.
- People who appear on these shows may enjoy 15 minutes of fame, but sometimes get deeply depressed when filming stops or they lose their influencer deals. A reported 38 reality TV contestants committed suicide.
Were we always nasty, petty, and violent and just afraid to show that side in public? Are producers simply giving viewers what they want to watch? Has the definition of “entertainment” always been somewhat subjective and we’re just living through a particularly weird era?
I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. But they are worth pondering.
And now I must return to thinking about how restaurant wars will turn out and who will get that final rose.