reality tv

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The Allure of the Strange and Unusual at Human Expense

Centuries ago, people who were "different" in any way–those with visible disabilities, facial deformities or marks, extreme obesity, or other conditions–often found "employment" in circuses and sideshows. They were ridiculed as freaks and shut out from society, and we now look back at their plights as an ultimate example of humanity’s inhumanity. We say we are too well-informed, too "politically correct," to parade people around for entertainment any longer.

Yet, we also have reality television. These days, the "freak show" looks more like documentaries chronicling the lives of little people, large fundamentalist families, people who have broken away from extreme forms of religion or cults, and yes, the extremely obese or thin again. We also have documentaries that place miserably failing restaurants, hotels, and other businesses on display, mostly so the hosts can be lauded for saving them and the business owners, who are implicitly understood to be careless or stupid.

Some reality shows are much gentler than others, doing their best to present their subjects with dignity and as real, three-dimensional people. Discouragingly though, the shows that seem to pull in the ratings and the viewers are the same ones that invite viewers to gawk and ridicule.

Why is this? Is the nature of reality TV itself to present the most unusual of humanity at people’s expense–that is, is there nothing to be done about it? What does it say about us as humans that we continue to consume and enjoy this entertainment? Discuss.

Some examples you might use:

-The filthiest and most rundown establishments on Hotel Impossible or Restaurant " "
-The shower scenes of My 600-Lb Life, which viewers and reviewers often call "the obligatory shower scene" (they’re often part of drinking games)
-The most extreme or scary-looking cults in documentaries
-The controversy and scandal surrounding the Duggar family, including the marriages of grown daughters and resulting spin-off series
-Places featured on documentaries like Most Terrifying Places in America, Ghost Adventures, etc.

  • As someone born with disabilities, and was going to see how how the disabled are portrayed in books and films, i support this topic! On Facebook and many channels on Youtube post these outlandish stories about the unusual or disabled people and ending the story with no possitive outcome. We are then to only feel pity for them before we move on and click on another video showing the same type of content with giving a couple hearts and crying emojis to show our support.– Amelia Arrows 3 months ago
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  • Good topic. I was expecting mention of Hoarders! I'm not sure that the final item in the list at the end of your topic -- about Most Terrifying Places in America and Ghost Adventures -- fit with the other items in the list. The supernatural seems to me like a very different topic. – JamesBKelley 3 months ago
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  • Hoarders, yes. :) The paranormal stuff probably doesn't fit, on reflection. I included it because, depending on how people feel about the paranormal, they might malign believers as strange and "haunted" places as gimmick-y or places "normal" people shouldn't be. But yes, Hoarders or Hoarding: Buried Alive would fit much better. – Stephanie M. 3 months ago
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  • I really like this topic! There's something about society's fascination with the "other" and how we tend to interact with it in a one-sided relationship -- think circus freak shows. How have reality tv shows and things like YouTube broadened our awareness of the "other" and what work does it do to embrace the "other" into society, or otherwise ostracize it further? Should the focus be on integration/assimilation into society, or can folks with disabilities/abilities be more celebrated for creating their own communities? How can able-bodied people respect these marginalized groups? I'm super interested in this topic, and I would eagerly read a piece about it it. – Eden 3 months ago
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"American Pickers" and Reality TV: The Real from the Staged

“American Pickers” on the History Channel is fun and enjoyable to watch. The problem, however, is how real is it actually. Reality TV shows need to keep the audience entertained and want them to come back for more, this show is no different. By focusing on this specific show an essay can address staged from real and the impact the show might have on people who begin to believe the stuff they have in a garage, a storage bin, a loft (probably junk they long forgot about) is worth anything of real value. In the case of this show watching people call their stuff “collecting” when it looks more like hoarding can contribute to a good essay.

  • Make sure to look at the other articles on Reality TV already published to address some of the discussion on RTV, but then yes a focus in on the concept of "collecting" and its socio-cultural implications could be really interesting. – SaraiMW 2 years ago
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The Fascination of Reality Television

Whether it be competitive shows such as The Bachelor or simply watching people live their lives like on The Real Housewives, audiences are drawn to watching people live under surveillance. From a production point of view, the gravitation to these shows is obvious: they are inexpensive to make and draw in a large audience. But why are they so popular and when did this trend of reality TV start? What does it say about society that we are so obsessed with these shows? Are the actions of the members on the shows a good representation of society, or are their actions a response to being under constant surveillance?

  • Hi Maddy. Just a quick suggestion. It might be worth looking at the articles and topic suggestions already available at The Artifice, some of which have a theme similar to your suggestion. Perhaps these could be combined in a single analysis. I'd also recommend reading Neil Sanders's 'Your Thoughts Are Not Your Own: Volume 2: Marketing, Movies and Music', as an insight into mass media programming. – Amyus 2 years ago
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  • Hi I am not huge a fan of reality television but my Mum is a big fan of reality show so it dd get me thinking how now in early 2000's we are getting bombarded with more and more reality television shows and when I was growing up I do not remember seeing so many (I wonder if I just did not notice it or was there less on in the late 1900s). Even though as I said reality television is not my thing it would still be interesting to see why we are seeing so many of them now. – Melver 2 years ago
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All Reality TV is Not the Same: The Impact of HGTV and American Pickers

While Big Brother, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, or any Survival island anywhere, have human interactive elements of created drama, these shows can carry a feeling of detachment on the part of the audience: It might be possible to have some vicarious pleasure in watching these shows, but they can still be seen as shows where the viewers do not have the possibility of participation. The various reality shows on HGTV (Property Brothers, Fixer Upper, Good Bones, for example) or American Pickers (on the History Channel) create a feeling that the audience can be more closely involved. Imagine hitting the road and seeing a site that looks like an odd junkyard, knocking on the door, and asking to rummage through someone’s property or warehouses? Imagine inviting The Property Brothers or Chip and Joanna Gaines to be involved in picking out a house to buy, having them knock down a wall, remodel a kitchen and turn the place into your dream home? These types of momentary thoughts can seem all too feasible. If you watch HGTV enough or American Pickers, it can be easy to imagine passing a place that looks interesting and wonder if it is possible to be like Mike and Frank. We all hope to buy a house that has potential and have Joanna do her magic and turn it into the white picket fence home of our dreams.
Are all reality shows the same or do some create a greater sense of expectation than others? Do these shows have an impact on the real world of remodeling or buying junk (which might not be junk to everyone)?

  • Reality TV is biased towards consumption. While it is true that there are differences between what is being advertised on a game-show type program, in which there is obvious competition, and a home renovation show, there can be no doubt that a product or lifestyle is always being sold. – Aedon 2 years ago
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Should Reality TV's Name Be Change to Fictional Reality TV?

With the rise of so many news stories revealing how Reality TV isn’t real at all, should the name "Reality TV" be changed to reflect what it really is–Fictional Reality TV (FRTV) Reality TV truly represents the idea of what people experience on a daily basis, but these experiences that are showcased on Reality TV are forced manipulations to make it appealing to watch. For example, Discovery Channel’s Alaskan Bush People supposedly live off the Alaskan land, and they barter for the things they need. Since they are getting paid for the TV show, do they really barter to get the things they need? Furthermore, if the name is changed to FRTV, will the ratings of these shows be impacted? Are people or a reality show’s audience more likely to discredit the show if the genre is visible, calling the show what it is?

  • "Fictional reality TV" might be a mouthful, but I say a name change is definitely in order. Personally, I know reality shows are scripted, but I still enjoy a few. Actually, knowing they're scripted sometimes makes the experience better. Example: I watch parenting-centered shows like Supernanny, and I know the camera people must be behind their equipment saying, "I'll give you a piece of candy if you call Mommy a poopoo head." The thought is hysterical. – Stephanie M. 3 years ago
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  • Hi Stephanie, I was devasted to find out the reality TV was so scripted. I thought camera men just followed people and the editors cut and paste to make sure there was a climatic point to the story. I'm glad we agree that there should be a name change. Acronyms are so popular in our society that all we have to do is start using FRTV, and I bet it catches on. Thank you for the feedback! – Vchelle 3 years ago
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  • I prefer the term, "Cancelled." – Tigey 3 years ago
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The role reality television has on our lives

Analyze the appeal of reality television and why people consistently obsess over the lives of others. Television itself is is meant to describe the human experience but reality television extends to show its audience what "true human experience" is, which leads lots of viewers to question its authenticity.

  • You might also want to include that some viewers try to fit their own life to the lives of people on the reality television shows. If any information can be found on people trying to fit the fake reality, that would make the article really interesting to have both sides. – amandajarrell 5 years ago
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  • You can also do a comparison of white reality television vs. black reality television and how it is portrayed in the media and their perspective communities. – Sheridan C. Watkins 5 years ago
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