Keeping up with Reality Television
If a decade ago someone told the general population that some family, in this case the Heene family, would tell the world that they put their boy up in a balloon, just to try to receive a television show, critics would have said reality television needed to come to an end. Now, the general public may have acted in disgust but the Heene’s motive comes as no surprise. As “balloon boy” indicates, reality television with all of the crazy publicity stunts it pulls has become a way of life. This particular stunt was more successful in receiving police attention but it did help the family to receive the famous so called “fifteen minutes of fame”. In today’s world these three authors argue various points regarding reality television in topics such as how reality television became a way of life with personal details for public viewing and how everything is done for approval but ethical situations arise when privacy is invaded which still causes assessments of the genre.
In “What’s Right with Reality TV”, Poniewozik’s argument is that reality television and internet encourages this generation go to promote themselves like a product. Poniewozik states that in 2000 television was a fad but now it is a way of life. In his opinion, Survivor and The Amazing Race are relatively tame to the point of the show attaining the family oriented title. He breaks down reality television into two subgenres: the game shows or competitions and plain voyeurism. The plain as day voyeurism is part of today’s modern take of the issue of privacy because this generation has grown accustomed to reality television; privacy is not as valued as it was in the past. Today’s reality is that an employer can do a quick Google search of a potential employee and that works as a resume. Also according to Poniewozik, this is precisely the reason it is of no use to make a Twitter or Facebook feed private, so that a person’s merit shows support on a social media website. This can lead to a person make cryptic messages to insure a person does not lose any credit on a reputation by posting something controversial, in other words, it has helped society to carefully construct themselves.
Kilborn takes a critical tone towards reality television at most instances especially in the area of television documentaries such that television documentaries have compromised integrity for ratings. It is easy to see how greed can overtake someone as reality television often displays in competition shows, and with the relatively cheap, how a production can sacrifice quality scripts, lighting, costumes, and editing for this cheap setup. Kilborn also describes how The Truman Show was a movie that summarized reality television with Jim Carrey starring as Truman. Kilborn describes how everyone is invested in Truman, all of Truman’s situations are simulated, the cast helps create the illusion, the products integrated on the show pay for the show to run, and there are ethical issues surrounding raising a child from birth to star in a reality show without his knowledge. This movie challenged audiences to think about what consequences their actions had if they allowed reality television to push the envelope, after all this is reality, not a television show where people can go on living their real lives elsewhere. When reality television is tampered with, it changes someone’s actual life. This seemed to be where the future of reality television was going at the time the movie was made and some of the predictions in The Truman Show have come true. The question still hangs in the air, is society going to find a balance so that reality television does not harm anyone but still is entertaining
Kavka focuses more on what the genre “reality television” means because reality encompasses many different subgenres. Not only does Kavka focus on different subgenres but also on the history of reality television itself to give a sort of evolution of a genre that really sped up in the last twenty years. This look into the evolution of reality television shows various issues that reality television dealt with in the past. Reality television is not exactly new with game shows, talent competitions, documentaries, and shows like Candid Camera helping to create an environment where ordinary people felt involved and welcomed cameras especially if they were hidden (Kavka pg 7).One of the main shows that Kavka points to for truly creating the genre is Candid Camera because the producer of Candid Camera, Allen Funt, found in radio days that if he hid the microphone that people talked with more honesty (Kavka pg 15-16). What is remarkable is he had the sound mind to create release forms so that no conflicts would exist in the future (Kavka pg 18-19). It is interesting to see that since the start of television, reality television existed as well as the fact that people were paid in exchange for an invasion of privacy. Candid Camera was a functioning television show in 1948, pretty much the start of television itself, which makes the name implicate a deeper truth. If a producer puts a person in front a camera and the participant knows it is there, then the participant will act differently than if the participant does not know that the camera is there. This also is part of the echo of critics, people change who they are, and their social behaviors in possibly unhealthy ways to focus on presenting a good image to the camera, or the audience. Is it ethical to simply watch while others may humiliate themselves (Kavka pg 43)? This raised questions for a new generation of reality television fans when the dad on An American Family announced he was gay, although his family knew, it had some questioning “did the constant surveillance on reality television make him this way (Kavka pg 32)? No one can say for sure but there is hardly a doubt in anyone’s mind that awareness of a camera always causes different reactions.
An example of “acting for the camera/audience” is in the Bachelor/ette, the couples in dating shows rarely end up married or stay married. Is it ethical to press for ratings by making a man or woman pursue many relationships but within a certain amount of time choose the love of their life (Kavka pg 23). These contestants are treated like chocolate samples, and the person tries to find their true favorite by mixing too many flavors together, many are going to change their taste. Just as taste changes, the seasons of life do, and many of these couples end up breaking up after the show. Instead of this model as a relationship model, Kavska says that it is a model on how to become a celebrity. If it shocks the staff and cast, then it might mean a making of a national celebrity like the case of Rozlyn Papa (Kavka pg 147). Although the question of ethics of reality television is ever present, it is obvious it is here to stay.
Kilborn assumes that audiences have caught onto reality television’s cheap tricks and have grown cynical of them, while Poniewozik has a differing opinion, suggesting that the audience itself has insured that reality television is here to stay. Both Poniewozik and Kilborn give credit to the audience for acknowledging they have the power over programming due to the consumer oriented medium of television? Kavka agrees with many of Poniewozik and Kilborn’s points but Kavka points in depth to the past, in order to cast light on the present.
The world that this generation has grown up in, now is accustomed to shows like Big Brother, Survivor, The Bachelor/ette, American Idol, and Jersey Shore. Scandals, cover-ups, fakes, phonies, the redeeming moments, the hope, the passion, and all the drama located inside a box called television. It is easy to see why there are cynics of reality television, it seems to encourage bad behavior; it usually takes longer for a person to gain respect than it does to receive attention for something that is shocking like a sex scandal. That is not to say that reality television does not surprise people and help people achieve their goals. There are many reality television shows that are dedicated to helping people aspire to accomplish their dreams. Reality television is like a documentary itself with shows perhaps providing drivel, but a sort of commentary on social life. Although the Jersey Shore or Keeping up with the Kardashians may not add any true value to improving anyone’s quality of life or knowledge but life is often what one makes out of it, and truthfully learning is a never ending process where exercising the brain is possible by applying an analytical spin on anything. So take the good with the bad, after a long hard day with the family, it is kind of nice to hear a different family argue about things.
Kavka, Misha. Reality TV. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2012. Print.
Kilborn, Richard W. Staging the Real: Factual TV Programming in the Age of Big Brother. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2003. Print.
Poniewozik, James. “What’s Right with Reality TV”Academic Universe: Research and Writing at Oklahoma State University. Myers, Joe, Lexi Brackett, Dannie Chalk, and Andrew Terhune. Plymouth, MI: Hayden-McNeil, 2009.237-244. Print.