A look at the television phenomenon that is real life
Kim, Kyle and Adrienne. Theresa, Caroline and Melissa. Kim, Kourtney and Chloe. Honey boo boo and Mama June.
Ordinarily, these would just be names of people. Nothing special. Your neighbors maybe, or co-workers, or friends. But in today's society, these particular people (no last names even really needed) are splashed across the pages of magazines and newspapers, spoken about on entertainment and news shows, and have become famous the world over. Why? Because they film themselves.... being themselves.
Reality television has exploded in the last few years. Yes, there are still dramas, sitcoms, and good old-fashioned game shows on television. But flip through your guide at any given moment, and you'll find an overwhelming amount of reality-based shows. From celebrities filming their glamorous daily lives to home chefs competing against each other to normal families from the American south burping and couponing their way to fame, it seems that these days all you really need is a film crew and a simple plot line to become famous.
It started innocently enough. There was Cops that started in the late 1980s, and MTV began their The Real World series during the 90s. But the real catalyst for the huge wave of reality television was Survivor, which began in 2000. The concept was fairly simple - put a group of strangers on an island with little to eat and challenges to complete to get ahead, and watch the disintegration of peace and harmony that follows. A little reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. And people ate it up. Survivor was consistently at the top of the ratings. Television executives discovered a formula that worked - as much as people liked to watch their favorite characters on their favorite shows, they liked watching ordinary people just as much, if not more.
Television throughout the 2000s has evolved (or devolved, depending on your take on it) into a stage where regular Joe Blows can become overnight celebrities and celebrities can attempt to make themselves look more like regular Joe Blows. We watch as the cast of Jersey Shore gets drunk, fights, and gets arrested week after week. We buy magazines because the cover says one of the Housewives is getting divorced. A few years ago we had no idea who these people were. They had no actual careers that got them noticed. They just weren't afraid of drama or confrontation and let the cameras film it. Instant fame.
I'll be the first to admit that I am a sucker for reality tv. I've got my PVR set to all the best of the worst, and thankfully I have a kind fiancé who doesn't delete them, even though I know he would enjoy nothing more. From the really bad like the Housewives series to the really really bad like Jersey Shore to the not so bad at all (and in fact, sometimes quite educational) ones like Pawn Stars or all those home reno and real estate shows (which technically count as reality) - I've watched them all. I've tried to explain my fascination for these shows to my bewildered friends and family (who otherwise consider me to be relatively intelligent) but no one understands. All I can really say is it's like candy. Rotten and delicious.
I find comfort in the fact that I'm not alone. Reality rules the airwaves these days, with more and more shows dedicated to the format, and more and more regular people finding fame from it. Society, whether it likes it or not, has given rise to a monster. There is a show for everything these days. From weddings to cake baking to renovations to desperate housewives to Kim Kardashian's rear-end. From 30 minutes to an hour-long to a 3-hour reunion special, everyone gets their moment.
Perhaps part of the reason for this is that we tend to view these reality stars as amped-up versions of ourselves. They are not movie stars or famous authors - they haven't won an Oscar or kissed Brad Pitt. They are (technically) regular people, just like us, who break up and make up and party and cry and there are elements of them that we can relate to. But for us on the other end of the boob tube, who see it all post-editing and appropriate-for-the-moment soundtrack dubbed in, it is a more glamorous and exciting form of things we encounter. Psychologically, when we are watching a movie, we know it's a movie - that it's not real and all scripted. A movie is fantasy, and while fun, is not relatable. A reality show, which promotes itself as unscripted (though quite honestly I have my doubts about that) and true to life, presents itself as something we can relate to. Almost like we're finding out about the lives and secrets of our friends and neighbors, or the popular girl in school or high school jock. And then there is the realm of reality shows which cater to our inner Martha Stewart or Mike Holmes. Really? Caulking my bathtub can be that easy?
Watching ordinary people in extraordinary situations, or ordinary people in ordinary situations but achieving some type of goal, appeals to us because it lifts us out of our everyday routine while still maintaining a lifeline to our everyday experiences. For some reason, people gravitate to it. Like it or not, reality television is a trend that is here to stay, at least for a while. And until it truly wears out its welcome, take it all with a large grain of salt.
Or change the channel.