I was honestly amazed and rather pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the first television reality show was not an invention of the 1990s but rather quite an old one! We did not discover reality television after all, we are just the generation that tolerates it better than our predecessors.
Fact is, the first reality show aired in 1971 and was called an American Family. It only lasted a season and I think this may be because it was ahead of its time! Also unlike today’s reality shows, it was made like a kind of documentary and was quite innocent.
It was not until 1992 that Reality television was reborn, this after a writers’ strike. Television owners realised that it was not only easier but also less expensive to produce reality shows. Psychologists suggest that reality shows caught on because the ’90s were also the time when people’s fascination with stars and their lives first reared its ugly head. Then of course there is the argument that people watch reality shows because they are looking for a social connection.
Social connection or not, there are some who do not appreciate reality shows at all. A lot of us think this is a matter of preference, but doctors have described the extreme condition as TV Elitism and given it the name Shunscripted Syndrome. Simply defined it is an an extreme aversion to reality television. Though the journal of American Medical Association has not yet acknowledged the existence of this condition, doctors say it exists.
Statistically the number of people watching reality shows has been growing over the years and a recent study by the Girl Scouts Institute found that 47% of girls and young women say they are regular viewers, 30% say they sometimes watch. 86% girls believe these shows “often pit girls against each other to make the shows more exciting” and 70% say they “make people think it is ok to treat each other badly”.
We all know someone, or we may actually be that someone, who is always rushing home to watch the “Big Brother” evictions, or the latest sacking on “The Apprentice”, or what “The Kardashians” are doing. I think that some of these shows are playing a role in making kids today very dependent and unoriginal.
But on the other hand, the same shows have been undeniably informative, providing an insight into practically all aspects of life. Musical shows like “Strictly Come Dancing”, “So You think you can Dance” have added to the culture of viewers and others like “Embarrassing Bodies” covering health issues have opened doors to issues previously not talked about.
Initially media experts wrote reality television off as a passing fad, however today the shows widely dominate TV schedules. This trend has led to new, and sometimes unforeseen complications. These would include the glorification of bad behaviour, after all people like Kim Kardashian got famous off a sex tape, and manufactured emotions achieved by shocking the viewers with dramatic scenes that often are not structured, organised or coherent.
Doctors are worried that the shows might make people more aggressive since aggression in these shows is often perceived as being more realistic. In addition, a lot of people use what they see on televison as a guide to what is ideal. For instance my 14 year old niece thinks it is alright to have liposuction, rather than go for exercise.
Even though most people will tell you they know the show is not all true, it is also true that as they continue to watch it they start to believe in what they are watching and its representation. Trouble now is we have kids who consider a body part that is not “perfect” a moral failure and plastic surgery once considered vain has become more acceptable.
We may appreciate reality television better, but we may also have to change certain aspects of it if we are to be normal once more, but then again, what is normal?