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Destructive Force: Reality Television

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Destructive Force: Reality Television
Glenn Miller
ENG 122 English Composition II
Instructor Lauren Higgins
April 29, 2013

Reality television shows are shows based on real people in real time. Individuals are put, as a group, in a particular environment where each person, or team, experiences roughly the same things. The fan base for realty shows is extensive and the number of shows has been rapidly increasing in recent years. Reality television has become very popular and, for some, even addicting. These shows, overall, have become detrimental to the public. The negative effects these shows have on the public at large far outweigh the entertainment value or positive effects. While there are shows that are beneficial, reality television can have negative effects on the public because it can become an addiction, it raises the standard of beauty for women, and it can prematurely advance the development of sexuality in teenagers.
Reality television makes a huge impact on teen and pre-teen audiences. Increased sexual awareness and insecurity are the two most prominent. Some of the most popular reality shows for these groups are romance based shows like The Bachelor. The Bachelor is a show where a single man is presented with a group of attractive single women of which he must choose one to be a potential wife. The man goes on dates with each woman individually and sometimes in groups. Weekly, he must decide which candidates he does not wish to go on another date with. During the first few weeks of the show, multiple women are eliminated at the same time. Later on, however, they are eliminated one by one. The same is true for the show Joe Millionaire. Yet another show that is romantically based is Temptation Island, where a couple tests the strength of their relationship by each living in a separate residence with a group of attractive individuals of the opposite sex. The goal is to resist the temptation of getting romantically involved with any of the individuals living with them. It is thought that the reason teens and pre-teens watch romantically themed reality shows is that they are viewed almost as a game show. “Temptation Island and similar programs usually feature a competition-based format, elements of game shows, sensationalism, a lighthearted, lively tone, and teasing and/or romantic storylines” (Vandenbosch & Eggermont 2011). Watching these shows has the possibility of increasing teen and pre-teen sexual awareness as well as changing the perceived normal sexual attitude. Vandenbosch and Eggermont hypothesize that “Watching RTRT is positively associated with (a) increased stereotyping of male and female sexuality (referring to men’s sexual obsession and women as sexual objects), with (b) stronger endorsement of a positive attitude toward steady, long-term relationships, and with (c) an increased importance attached to romantic characteristics of the perfect partner.” Using The Bachelor as an example, this means that by watching the show, it is possible that the teen and pre-teen audiences will believe that a man is supposed to be able to “shop around” and a woman should be competing for a man’s attention, long term relationships are something to avoid until the “right one” is found, and that there are certain qualities the perfect partner have to possess. The viewing of these shows also leads to increased peer to peer conversation about sexual relationships. For young people, their peers are one of their most trusted sources of information; therefore, speaking with each other about sexual relations can easily lead to actually performing the act itself. Viewing the fact that there are a large number of pre-teen viewers, it can be hypothesized that this can lead to premature sexual activity. Viewing RTRT is positively related to increased estimates of the sexual experiences of peers.” ( Vandenbosch & Eggermont 2011). A study was taken on teens and pre-teens versus specific shows. The purpose of this study was to see how many of these young people watched 5 of the most popular reality shows on the air. The youths were broken into two age groups, 8-12 and 13-18. For the 8-12 age group, the percentages ranged from 40%-70% depending on the show. The 13-18 age group had a slightly larger percentage range of 27%-70%. Reality television creates a huge impact on women’s views of themselves. Shows such as Extreme Makeover raise the bar on the standard of beauty for women. Extreme Makeover is a show where women who are unhappy with their appearance and the romantic aspect of their lives. The show performs cosmetic surgeries and sends the client to high end shops for makeup and wardrobe. Shows like this make many women insecure about their looks. It portrays the image that if a woman’s physical appearance is not equivalent to the standards depicted on the show, then the woman cannot be happy. A study was conducted on a controlled group of both male and female subjects from multiple ethnic groups. The individuals were exposed to the Extreme Makeover show and then given a survey afterwards in which they answered a controlled group of questions and then were allowed to make their own judgment of the show at the end. This study concluded that there was really no difference in the response to the presentation of the standard of female beauty. “In contrast to our hypothesis, we did not find a gender difference in emerging adult men and women’s responses to the media presentation of idealized female beauty.” (Markey & Markey 2012) The study did show, however, that while the majority of men were indifferent to the idea of pursuing plastic surgery after watching the show, a large portion of women, mainly composed of individuals that enjoyed reality shows, had an increased desire to pursue plastic surgery. These types of shows can have a deeper impact than just raising the standard of female beauty and increasing the desire for cosmetic surgery. These shows can also lead to an increase in the severity of emotional disorders among women. Another show that has an impact on the standard of females was discussed earlier, which is The Bachelor. The Bachelor portrays beautiful women as emotional and attention seeking. The show does not focus on the remaining women throughout the show. They focus on the man and the women who have been eliminated. “The action of the series is propelled by a drawn-out process of eliminating women until one remains, with the narrative focus on how and why women are not selected by the bachelor.” (Dubrofsky 2009) This includes the borrowed term,”money shot.” This refers to the clip of an eliminated contestant being overly emotional. The show indicates that if a woman cannot control her emotions completely, she is undeserving of love. By focusing on this, the show gives the impression that most women are uncontrollably emotional and there are only a few who have the composure it takes to be loved by a man. Men and women take different things from this, but still arrive at the same conclusion. Men see women as highly emotional and not worth their time, while women see themselves as not worth a man’s time if they show emotion. This ultimately leads to shorter relationships and low self esteem for women. A third problem that reality television can incur is addiction. People have a tendency to become addicted to these shows and feel the need to watch them every week. While this does not seem like it would be an issue, it becomes one when an individual watches multiple shows. The addiction can take priority over other aspects of daily life, especially for youths. School work gets neglected in favor of seeing what will happen on the weekly episode of their favorite reality shows. Reality television can become an addiction from the empathy and relation the audience can have to the individuals on the show. From the women on The Bachelor to the people on The Biggest Loser, almost anyone can relate to one or more of the individuals on these reality shows. There are some positive effects and a few reality shows that are beneficial to the public. Shows like Supernanny and The Biggest Loser promote wellness to the public. Supernanny is a show where the supernanny goes to homes in which the children have gotten out of control and the parents have no idea how to handle them. The supernanny coaches the parents and the children in ways to communicate and be closer as a family. Videos are taken around the clock to see how the parents and children respond to each other in typical home situations. These videos allow the audience to view the right and wrong way to approach things and what the consequences are. “Reality TV parenting programmes, such as Supernanny, Little Angels, and The House of Tiny Tearaways, all use embedded video as a prominent element, not only of the audiovisual spectacle of reality television but also of the therapy, counselling, coaching and instruction intrinsic to these programmes.” (McIlvenny 2011) While watching someone like the supernanny coach families, the at home audience also receives advice on how to deal with issues at home. The Biggest Loser is a show where severely overweight people are selected to compete for a large sum of money. These people are put through exercise routines, challenges, and dieting. The team or individual that loses the largest percentage of weight wins the week and the individual that loses the smallest percentage of weight is eliminated and sent home. The show also reaches out to the community and sends the finalists home for a week to test their resolve, but also to lead their community in an exercise day. In the most recent season of The Biggest Loser, not only did the network select overweight adults, they also selected 3 overweight youths for a special program. By doing this, they showed the at home audience that children are having weight problems as well, and that it can be dealt with. Throughout the season, references are made to the families of the people on the show, with the main focus on the family members that were also overweight but had been inspired to lose weight due to their relative losing weight on the show. The participants in the show are put through rigorous exercise routines by 3 fitness experts, taught how to eat healthy and what foods are acceptable, given competitive challenges for special rewards. There are other benefits to reality television besides the show specific benefits to health and welfare. The wide range of viewing audiences allows for watching reality shows to be a family event, bringing families closer together. Another benefit is using reality TV as a way to wind down from daily life and activities. Come home from a long day at work and watch your favorite show. Though there are benefits to reality television, the premature advancement of sexuality in youths, the addiction that can occur from watching reality shows, and the forming of idealized female beauty make reality television a negative influence on society. If only reality shows that were beneficial to the public were to be allowed on the air, these issues would be avoidable. Another option would be to make more reality shows similar to the few current beneficial shows.

Dubrofsky, R. (2009) Fallen Women in Reality TV. Retrieved from EBSCOhost
Markey, C., Markey, P. (2012). Emerging Adults’ Responses to a Media Presentation of Idealized FemalevBeauty: An Examination of Cosmetic Surgery in Reality Television. Retrieved from EBSCOhost
McIlvenny, P. (2011) Video interventions in ‘‘everyday life’’: semiotic and spatial practices of embedded video as a therapeutic tool in reality TV parenting programmes. Retrieved from EBSCOhost
Ouellette, L. (2010). Reality TV Gives Back: On the Civic Functions of Reality Entertainment. Retrieved from EBSCOhost
Patino, A., Kaltcheva, V., Smith, M. (2011). The Appeal of Reality Television For Teen and Pre Teen Audiences. Retrieved from EBSCOhost
Vandenbosch, L., Eggermont, S. (2011). Temptation Island, The Bachelor, Joe Millionaire: A Prospective Cohort Study on the Role of Romantically Themed Reality Television in Adolescents’ Sexual Development. Retrieved from EBSCOhost

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