Why I Find Reality Shows Upsetting

I have long ago learned that for the most part, reality can be quite subjective. What is real for one person and makes up their world makes no sense to another. Yet when used in the context of television programming, reality can be a frightening thing.

Although my introduction to reality television came in the form of the show “The Real World” on MTV in which strangers were put in a home to live together, with cameras recording their every movement and reactions to reactions being broadcast for the world to see, there was a considerably older precedent in the form of the PBS show “An American Family.” The show had a similar premise but was about, you guessed it, an American family as they lived out their life. Here is a set of clips that someone managed to record and upload to YouTube.

Reality television started off on a fairly promising note but took a nosedive when, unfortunately, more and more elements of non-reality started creeping their way into programs.

Take The Hills, for example. On multiple occasions, such as this one, it has been recognized that the show was almost certainly scripted and had their ‘reality’ shot in multiple takes from different angles. To me, if it requires more than one take, it stops being reality.

Yes, The Hills is fake. Fake in the sense that producers and participants acknowledge reshooting scenes and doing multiple takes. Fake in the sense that MTV’s beautiful “stars” are famous for little more than being on The Hills.

This, to me, is a bit less offensive than a reality television series which has multiple spin-off series to go along side of it — the Real Housewives shows. Set in different parts of the country, The Real Housewives shows (now one of the strongest programs on Bravo — they may as well rename themselves The Real Housewives Network) focuses on obnoxious rich women who are housewives only in the sense that they are married and live in homes. When I think of housewives, I think of the humble women whose homes I visited in Jerusalem who managed to keep beautiful homes while raising multiple children and being fantastic chefs at the same time. Their time wasn’t spent slamming tables around or going into recording studios to badly sing horrible lyrics about a shallow existence that would be corrected by software to sound somewhat listenable.

Another show that pretends to imitate reality but is anything but real is “Jersey Shore,” which begins with a premise similar to The Real World: putting together strangers in a home. The problem is that none of the people on The Jersey Shore are, in my opinion, worth caring about. Most of them are not actually from New Jersey and they somehow take every minute of every episode and give the state of my birth a bad name. They also are an insult to decent Italian-Americans everywhere.

Then you have shows that have mind-numbing premises which make you wonder how we as a species have not yet gone extinct — shows like The Bachelor, in which a man must go out on dates and challenges with a series of women so that he can decide who is right for him to marry. This is not to speak of television nightmares like Toddlers and Tiaras, a show which takes exploitation of the children of this country to an extreme. I cannot fathom what sick minds are out there dressing their four year old daughters as though they were amateur prostitutes but they exist and are like a malignant tumor on our culture that should not be applauded but rather excised.

This is precisely why the reality television programs of today are upsetting to me. If we are to save them we should return to the simpler times of programs like An American Family, capturing the essence of who we are as a people without multiple takes and edits and bad prostitute babies.