Yesterday's presentations sparked some interesting dialogue around issues of both the effects and intentions of reality programming. While some tended to the side that reality television could serve a beneficial purpose, others were more skeptical of its perceived altruistic value. I side with the latter half. To me, whatever the positive effects TV might have for an individual, they are personal. The foundation for any television show is its value as an economic good. Reality television is no exception, it was created because of its economic advantages over programming that needed heavy investments in production. I have no problem with the overweight guy who watches The Biggest Loser and subsequently makes positive lifestyle changes. But TV executives have a handle on this tendency for viewers to seek out themes in shows with which they can reconcile their own identity. And they profit on it through advertising, merchandising, and making even more of the same programming. Although not reality programming, Subway Jared probably made a ton of money through the realization of Subway that they could capitalize by being relatable. As long as people are able to separate what is contrived and what is authentic on TV, then all is fine. But without trying to sound too cynical, many people cannot always make this distinguishment, myself included. It is because producers are so adept at blurring that line, and reality television is still supposed to be just that, real. It is why reality programming is only spreading and why advertisers are increasingly looking to the genre for opportunities to sell their products in the context of real life and 'relatibility.'
Reality TV can absolutely be beneficial, but I don't think those are societal effects. They are limited to individuals who identify with the shows in a positive way. In the case of The Biggest Loser, maybe they join 24 Hour Fitness, eat more Yoplait and Gortons products, lose 20 pounds, and spend a few hundred dollars. In the end, it is wonderful that someone was able to draw positives from watching the show-but the programming itself has no more inherent moral value than a thirty second commercial-they are both created for the same purpose. The societal effects of reality television may have more serious implications such as encouraging superficial judgements of people, creating unrealistic expectations, and perpetuating negative stereotypes of really tan Italian Americans.