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Staffer Expresses Contempt for Today’s Reality TV

What happened to good TV? What happened to “Full House” and “Saved by the Bell”? Why have these classic sitcoms been replaced by reality TV shows?

Shows about the perfect American family and comedic teens from the 90s are now a distant memory in today’s society. These shows can no longer fill the empty part of the brain that the modern American reserves for voting people off the island and fist-pumping.

So what really draws us to the stupidity of scripted dates and camera pans of New Jersey clubs? Maybe, deep down we wish to be on the reality star’s level, gaining fame on TV by doing absolutely nothing worthwhile. People might turn to reality TV as a way to escape from their problems or to find a connection with others. Is it the contentment we get from watching other people suffer, or the chance to see into others lives that makes us want to fulfill this guilty pleasure?

MTV, which used to promote itself with the slogan, “too much is never enough” has demonstrated why its slogan is no longer in use for today’s content. Reality TV has moved from an amusing distraction to TV’s main attraction. Our society as a whole watches these shows for entertainment, but younger viewers also look to these shows for guidance, to decide what clothing to wear, what to do with their free time, and what kind of relationships they are going to develop.

To understand why other people watch these shows, I watched a few myself.

“Jersey Shore” has been a phenomenon among teens since it originally aired in 2009. Before watching, I had nothing to base my opinions off of other than what I had seen in magazines and heard people talk about. The show’s Ed-Hardy-sporting, hair-gel-wearing, fake-tanned stars promote their lifestyle of GTL (gym, tan, laundry). They go out partying almost every night, do whatever they want without thinking of other people, and drink alcohol constantly. They do everything but have an honest relationship. Episode after episode shows the cast clubbing, taking home random hookups (what they call grenades), and cat fights galore. Even worse, we are watching thirty-year-old adults do all of this. I mean, really, isn’t it time to grow up?

After wasting an hour of my life watching people make complete fools of themselves, I realized that no one on the show ever recognizes the cast members’ terrible behavior. The stars never receive any consequences for their actions, and consciously or not, encourage viewers to mimic their outrageous behavior. Younger viewers tend to develop the actions that they see on TV.

“The Real Housewives” series thrives on absurd drama. From commercials I’ve seen for the show, I figured the cast members of the “Real Housewives” love to be the center of attention, whether in a positive or negative light. I imagined them to be stereotypical wealthy women, head of all the charity events in their town and involved in every one’s personal business.

My prediction was not only right, but an understatement of the immature behavior that this show encourages. The cast members set an example for all their viewers to create cliques and talk behind peoples’ backs, acting no better than middle-schoolers. Cliques seem to form no matter where you go. By watching older and more experienced people start these, it only teaches us to do the same. Many of the families on the show are constantly fighting, and when we’re living in a country where it isn’t uncommon to have family problems or know someone who does, the idea of learning how to deal with relationships from these reality stars seems ridiculous.

Personally, having a camera in my face 24/7 sounds appalling. Now I understand wanting to get your 15 minutes of fame, or competing to be the best at your talent—but what about having a camera on you and your family all the time sounds appealing? Shows like “Hogan Knows Best” and “John & Kate Plus 8” have only proven that an extended amount of time under the spotlight won’t lead to anything good.

Seeing old episodes of “Hogan Knows Best” and “John & Kate Plus 8” made me think about the kids of these families. I imagined what it would be like to be in these children’s places, who grew up with the knowledge that every move they make could potentially be watched by the world. That much pressure on not just one person, but a group of people could easily lead to problems that could potentially break a family up. The part that I have trouble comprehending is that we are expected to have healthy long-lasting relationships in our society, yet children and teens are learning relationship skills from people who wouldn’t think twice about picking fame or money over their family.

Not all reality TV promotes bad behavior. “Ace of Cakes” and “America’s Got Talent” are just competitions to see who is the best at their particular talent. Clearly, I wasn’t clued in on why these shows are being aired–the most creative cake decorator might be better than some of the stars of other reality TV shows, but is it better than hearing the President’s speech? Yes, the President’s speech might be “boring,” but he is talking about our future. By watching these shows, we aren’t only putting ideas into our heads by seeing the star’s less-than-redeeming actions, but we could potentially be ignoring what will matter to us in the next five, 10 or 20 years.

What is the benefit of reality TV? In a world where each country competes to be the best, reality shows only reflect badly on our country. Are a few laughs a good enough reason to indirectly teach our society to behave in these ways? Life imitates art by influencing people to take what they see in the media and applying it to the real world.

Sadly, reality TV is our art.

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Leah Pack

My name is Leah Pack and I am the A&E Section Editor this year. I have been a member of the Harbinger staff since sophomore year and participate in other school activities such as Student Council and SHARE. Read Full »

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