The Effects of TV Shows on Reality

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The Effects of TV Shows on Reality

Reality programs have flooded the networks in the last few years, essentially muscling out other forms of entertainment. In the face of this influx, Psychologists and researchers Steven Reiss and James Wiltz were curious as to why millions of viewers tune in weekly to watch what is essentially public humiliation. What they discovered was less than flattering.

Reiss devised a system based on over 10,000 individual studies that isolates essential human desires and their corresponding joys when they are fulfilled. What we choose for entertainment determines what desires are strongest and what ‘release’ we are craving. Those who consider themselves to be addicted to reality programming were shown to have strong cravings for both social status and vengeance. Watching people soar through massive emotional highs and lows from the comfort of their couches allows the viewer the unabashed joys of self importance and vindication, something they might not attain in their own daily lives.

It’s a less than flattering image – over 51 million people achieving subconscious satisfaction through watching highly constructed ‘every day’ people endure suffering with embarrassingly low levels of self control and dignity.

More Real than Reality?

In the 1960’s, media psychologist George Gerbner proposed that our exposure to popular culture images shapes our perception of events, people, and places. Someone who is a heavy television watcher will base his or her ideas of reality on what they see portrayed. For example, if a person watches excessive amounts of news programming daily, they generally have a more negative concept of life and are more prone to accept punishment as justice. 

What if a person watches nothing but reality programming? From exposing themselves to these shows, they create a reality for themselves where embarrassment, disrespect, and degradation are the norm. In this constructed reality, relationships must be tumultuous and self-centered in order to be normal. Marriage is something that can be annulled in a second but perhaps worst of all, parenting is an adult centered soap opera where the children are barely considered and hardly protected.

Reality Television At Its Worst

North Americans are obsessed with being the ‘perfect parent’; we want our children to enjoy the best education, the best recreation, and be on the road to a successful career by kindergarten. If reality entertainment really holds a mirror to our culture, then is this obsession one based on our own need for dominance and not the well being of our children? Perhaps we look to programs such as ‘Kate plus 8’ and ‘Teen Mom’ in order to satisfy our need to feel superior as parents. Watching teenage moms struggle with drug addiction, suicide and family distress puts us into a powerful, voyeuristic position while at the same time allowing us to forgive ourselves for our own parenting difficulties.

However, what message are these programs sending to those who aren’t parents? ‘Kate plus 8’ presents a world where a single mother can effortlessly raise 8 children in a house filled with professional lighting, makeup artists and designated ‘interview rooms’. Hours of footage are condensed into an entertaining, fast paced half and hour essentially reducing the daily grind of good parenting down to what is the most sensational. The effort it takes to be at your best daily, to be a conscientious and concerned parent is abandoned on the cutting room floor as our desire for humiliation is satisfied. Those who watch these shows regularly may head into parenting with a set of extraordinarily narcissistic ideals that can be just as damaging to their children’s psyche as it is to their own.

It’s common knowledge that what we choose to watch as entertainment holds a mirror up to who we are as a society. With over 85% of the most valuable advertising space on television being reserved for reality television, it is safe to say that we are obsessed with what was once believed to be a passing fad. However, for something that is so obviously popular, it is almost universally vilified as the worst possible form of entertainment. In his article for the Association for Psychological Science, Eric Jaffe describes this phenomenon as a “threat to intelligence – catering to (and rising from) the most prurient of human instincts”. It’s a threat we can’t get enough of and one that has definite effects on what we expect from the lives we live every day.

How about you all? Do you watch a lot of reality TV? If so, what do you find draws you to watch the shows? If not, why do you avoid it?

What are the positive and negative effects of reality TV on today’s society in your opinion? 

Share your experiences by commenting below!

Jacob’s Thoughts – Listed below are my random thoughts as I was reading this article.

  • @ The world’s obsession with reality TV –
    • Personally, I probably am not the best person to ask/comment about reality TV since the only reality TV shows I’ve really ever watched were Survivor and some of the series on the Discovery Channel, such as Dirty Jobs, Mythbusters, and Deadliest Catch. And, as far as I know, these shows aren’t the “stereotypical” reality TV shows that people most often think about.
    • However, I do agree with the findings of the research study mentioned in the article above that mentions that many people choose to watch dramatic reality TV in order to feel better about one aspect of their lives or another.
    • It could be argued that even with “light” drama reality TV shows such as Deadliest Catch and Dirty Jobs, people could watch these in order to feel more empowered/better about their own occupations. 
      • Do I think this is why I watch these shows? I didn’t until I read this post, but now, it has made me stop and think….It could be that on a sub-conscious level, I like to watch Dirty Jobs to feel glad that I don’t have to deal with that sort of stuff in my day-to-day routine. 
      • However, the conscious side of me says that I really like to watch the show just for the sake of it being interesting to find out what other jobs entail. 
      • After all, I have started a business that involved scooping up dog droppings from other people’s yards, so I definitely don’t feel like I am “above” jobs that involve getting your hands dirty.
      • However, it’s definitely an interesting idea to ponder, since it’s not often that you think about what’s going on at a subconscious level.
    • But, one thing that is for certain is that reality TV is wildly popular in today’s society! I once heard that more people voted for the winner of American Idol than for the President of the USA. Crazy!
  • @ How reality TV affects today’s society – 
    • Another intriguing question is, how does reality TV affect the world’s population?
    • First, I do feel that reality TV does shape our perceptions about what is considered “cool,” “attractive,” “socially acceptable,” as is touched upon by the article above.  
    • However, another potentially harmful effect that could be experienced with a large portion of the world’s population being glued to the TV set for many hours each week is a decrease in productivity.
      • For example, instead of watching reality TV (or any TV for that matter) 4 hours per week, could that time be used to start a side business to help secure your family’s financial future?
      • Instead of watching TV, could you be studying more? learning new skills? doing your homework? The list continues….
      • It’d be interesting to do a future post to investigate any linkage between hours of TV watched per week and wealth/financial success! It’d be cool to see what trends could be observed!

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  1. I don't know if Mythbusters and Dual Survival qualify as reality shows. If so, guilty, I do watch them from time to time.

  2. I know that there has been studies on TV watching and debt. The study found that as hours in front of the TV increased, debt increased. TV advertising was the proposed cuprit.____I'm guilty as charged as it comes to watching reality sometimes, but I don't frequently watch it.

  3. I hate television. I never watch it. I have a netflix account and barely use it either. I enjoy movies, but in moderation. I'd rather be active and create my own life than live vicariously through others.
    My recent post 9 Tips to Getting Control of Your Finances

  4. Never have been a fan of reality shows. Most of the time they either make us want things we don’t have, which can cause a lot of problems in our personal finances, or , like you said, they create feelings of vindication or self justification. When it comes down to it there are a lot of things that you could be doing that will benefit you, your family, and your community rather than watching tv.

  5. It is sad that so many people think reality TV is real. It is so over-produced and edited to create dramatic situations. For most MTV shows, they add free alcohol to ensure drama ensues. People need to find better uses of their time than watching to see what Snookie will do next.
    My recent post Holiday Spending Hangover

  6. It really is quite terrifying how much of this 'reality tv' nonsense is on TV. You cant really avoid nowadays. It's a shame that old school formats for shows and genres are slowly dying off – people dont really seem to make many documentaries anymore.
    My recent post Hitting the hill, but not yet over it…

  7. I don't watch reality tv. I enjoy good acting when I get a chance to watch tv. I only watch a bit of news until I realize that taking the date off of the intro makes everyday seem like we are living in a world like the movie Groundhogs Day.

  8. Reality TV is like wrestling — entertaining, but fake! I hate how we can get so easily trapped into “keeping up with the Joneses”, not just materially but status-wise and emotionally.
    My recent post Happy New Year!

  9. Afford Anything says:

    “a heavy television watcher will base his or her ideas of reality on what they see portrayed.” — It's amazing how many people, upon hearing that I'm a freelance writer, think that I have as much time and money as fictional freelance writer Carrie Bradshaw (Sex & The City). Some people think I work 1 hour a day and have endless cash … if freelance writing is THAT easy/lucrative, why don't they do it?

    P.S. I know that's not “reality TV,” but the same principle applies.
    My recent post Does “Collective Wisdom” Really Exist?

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