Love on Reality TV, that is.
I don’t know about Syd and Dre (a.k.a. Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan) in 2002’s Brown Sugar, but I–for one–am not happy about where hip hop has gone.
No one will ever say that they fell in love with hip hop after watching Tiny & Toya or Love and Hip Hop. In fact, it is unlikely that anyone will say they fell in love at all after watching Reality TV. With all of the divorces, cheating, conniving, back-stabbing and fake love affairs so blatant day in and day out, does it make us more tolerable of moral ineptitude? What impact does Reality TV have on our perceptions of our own relationships?
History of Reality TV
Since the debut of Candid Camera in the 1940s, Reality TV has been on our viewing landscape. For the 25 year old and under demographic, MTV’s Real World first aired nearly twenty years ago. However, not until more recently, with the first appearance of Survivor in 2000, did reality TV gain broad, network TV, primetime popularity across an older demographic.
In fact, Survivor has been credited with beginning the infiltration of reality programming, not only into our homes, but into our psyches. Love it or hate it, make no mistake: Reality TV is here to stay. In fact, in 2003, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences added ‘Best Reality Show’ as an Emmy category.
Why We Love It
Humor. Suspense. Entertainment. Social Gratification.
Reality TV depicts characters and situations that are relevant to our everyday lives with real people instead of actors. It also offers different models for how we develop romantic relationships, manipulate relationships to win, and maintain relationships. More tangibly, we get together and talk about it! Motivation research indicates we prefer to watch those Reality TV shows that stimulate our own values the most, by either mimicking our own values or being diametrically-opposed.
What Watching Does To Us
Research suggests that the more Reality TV a person watches, the more status-oriented the person tends to be, placing a higher value on vengeance, being more motivated by social life, less motivated by honor, and more concerned with romance. Do you believe this?
What does Reality TV teach us about relationships? Does it fuel our insecurities about finding lasting love? Does it teach us to treat love like a competitive sport?
A recent poll indicates that many people say they loathe Reality TV; few admit to watching it; and many say they don’t watch it at all.
While watching Reality TV is apparently seen as socially-unacceptable, people are definitely watching. More people voted on the American Idol winner in 2004 than on the election! And, in 2008–one of the most critical elections of our lifetime–within a 2 week period, more people watched Reality TV than voted in the election!
I, personally, feel very conflicted. I watch Reality TV because it is easy viewing and makes me laugh and gives me something ‘light’ to talk about with friends and colleagues. On the one hand, I want to tear myself away from the television and not debase my intellectual fortitude watching those ridiculous Housewives and on the other hand, I have programmed my TV to record my line up!
At best, Reality TV gives us something to laugh at as we watch people who know they are being watched pretend that they’re not being watched. At worst (and much more insidious), it resets our social norm gauge about how to behave and what is deemed as acceptable behavior.
Oscar Wilde once said that ‘Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.’ In this case, I sure hope he is wrong.
Cherry, K.L. (2003). Understanding the gratifications of reality television. Unpublished paper, Department of Communication, University of Missouri.
Frank, B. (2003, July 7). Check out why young viewers like reality programming. Broadcasting & Cable, 133, 18.
Hiebert, R.E. & Gibbons, S.J. (2000). Exploring mass media for a changing world. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Perkins-Munn, T. (2011). The Non-Negotiables: Picking a Partner, not a Playmate. Unpublished Manuscript
Reiss, S. & Wiltz, J. (2004). Why people watch reality TV. Media Psychology, 6, 363378.
Rowen, B. (2000). History of reality TV. Retrieved March 26, 2011 from http://www.infoplease.com/spot/realitytv1.html.
Tiffany welcomes your feedback, questions and queries at [email protected]
Click the ‘Subscribe’ button at the top of the page to receive my weekend columns.
Be sure to click the icons to follow me on Facebook and Twitter!
All Tiffany Perkins-Munn, Relationship Psychology Examiner articles © 2011 by Tiffany Perkins-Munn; Reposts permitted with link to original article. All other rights reserved.