Does Reality TV Do More Harm Than Good?

Let’s face it, reality TV is taking over television. There are different dimensions of reality TV-- some more scripted than others, some have more of a purpose-- but they permeate every channel and nearly every household. I’m not going to lie, "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine. But, if history has taught us anything, just because something's popular doesn’t mean it’s good.

The biggest problem with reality TV is that it’s not reality.

Labeling it as such can shape its viewers' beliefs to see a scripted reality as true. Why is this harmful? Well, let’s use Khloé Kardashian and Lamar Odom’s marriage (which was consistently documented on "KUWTK" and a spin-off called "Khloé & Lamar") as an example. For those without any background information, Khloé and Lamar wed in September of 2009 just a month after meeting. Then, Khloé filed for divorce in 2013 after being separated for a couple of months. She then called off the divorce shortly after, and refiled this past spring while Lamar was recovering from an overdose he suffered while in a Nevada brothel.

While all of this was going on, cameras were “documenting her every move,” as reality TV claims to capture reality. Yet, the only media that covered Odom’s spiral downward, was the press. If you just watch their TV show, everything looks manageable. Even though Odom had been suffering from substance abuse, he had been cheating on Khloé, and they hadn’t lived together for a long period of time. Sure, there are moments we see a Kardashian breaking down here and there; but, it never captures the depth of human struggle. How can we instill the idea that this is reality when it doesn’t come close?

And this is the heart of the issue with reality TV: it will never be able to document true reality.

Not even if they documented every minute of every day. It’s impossible to capture every thought, every emotion, and every action. Without that capability, they form perceptions of what “reality” is supposed to be like without specifying that behind the scenes, someone is yelling “Action!” and “Cut!”. If it is not understood that this genre is a mask or a filtered lens, then we are perpetuating this model as what should be.

So, am I saying to rid all television of reality shows? No. I said they were my guilty pleasure… but more than that, I simply propose a new approach:

Let’s not call it reality TV anymore.

As we are seeing more and more these days, labels are what cause issues. Labels and categories create perceptions, perceptions that most of the time do not align with intricacies of the real world. This false advertising, false promotion, and even false definition will only further a false perception of reality. We need to emphasize that life is infinitely complex, rather than compilable into 44 minutes every week. If we don’t do this soon, there will be a little girl or little boy who grows up thinking Khloé’s marriage was a fantasy. When something is as popular and ubiquitous as the influence of reality TV on American culture, we can’t just let it out into the world without contemplating the consequences.

And if you think there aren’t any consequences, you need to face reality.

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