Friday, December 3, 2010

Reality TV is still TV

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.


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  2. Reality TV has definitely a commercial branding themes in the the American version of reality TV. But this tendency seems to be very minimized in the Middle Eastern one. I was trying to catch product placements for sponsors, and I found that none of the sponsors were actually promoted in the show. Only for the Diet Center that was not among the sponsors in the episodes I watched. However, I have seen product placement in other TV contests shows, and series where that sponsor beverages were actually served in the show. But that is not prominent in most reality TV shows, or at least the ones I've seen. I think it focuses more in effects of social, and cultural implications of these programs rather than commercial parts. ..
    I deleted the previous post to add a thought to the comment:)

  3. I think it was interesting that most of our authors that tackled the concepts of contra-flow or subaltern-flow--particularly Thussu, Iwabuchi, and Miller--all make the point that it's unclear whether we've achieved contra-flows in the global media space or rather that global capitalism and commercialism have won out as the new Americana. This is definitely important to remember as consumer of reality TV--I agree with you, Ben, here--that whatever benefits are in these shows are individual and likely not part of the shows design. Rather profits are at the root of most shows designs.

  4. I definitely think it's true that reality program has turned into not much more than an opportunity for advertising. What was initially a way to create cheap programming with the goal of attracting high viewership now is full of sponsored segments, product placement, and just blatantly saying "so and so provides these goods for you, you WILL use them" (Project Runway comes to mind here).

    I think part of the blurring of the line between reality and scripted entertainment can be attributed to all the advertising going on. The way advertisers are involved, products are placed/'s just not what actually happens, and I think it's all this advertising that has contributed to people becoming more skeptical about how much is real and how much isn't.