Friday, January 29, 2010

Reality TV--Why so many viewers?

Indeed, Reality TV has changed the face of television, literally. How have these low-budget programs garnered so many viewers? To effectively discuss this question we need to understand the cultural/historical background of our RTV-watching Americans.

American Dream and Capitalism

Young American children are raised in a capitalist-conscious economy. They are told that if they work hard (and smart), they can accumulate the kind of wealth of billionaires like Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates, and Sergey Brin. The American public education system teaches youngsters through its use of grades that education—and life is a competition, in which only the best win.

Naturally, the capitalistic method is the principal theme of a RTV show. Francine Prose states that RTV summarizes the “vision of a zero-sum society in which no one can win unless someone else loses….”

RTV, a product of a capitalist-driven economy, appeals to all who fight in the trenches of capitalism, be it the office or the classroom.

Gladiator Syndrome

Inherent in human behavior, as noted historically, is the obsession with watching competitions. From the coliseum’s gladiators to NFL’s Super Bowl, humans have typically enjoyed a good battle. We often pick a side and triumph or despair depending on how our team does. And just as well, RTV picks up this same trend. Often I hear conversations among friends and coworkers about certain affinities towards particular contestants in the latest RTVs. Because everyone has his or her favorite contestant (I did when David Archuleta competed in American Idol), everyone must watch the latest episode to find out if his or her contestant will make it to the next round.

Furthermore, the fact that RTV is, in fact, “real,” makes the game that much more interesting. Prose said “observing [the contestant’s] response to stress and humiliation generates a gladiatorial, bread-and-circus atmosphere that simply does not exist when we see movie stars in scrubs sail a gurney down the halls of ER.”

Of those I interviewed, RTV was taken as both appealing and appalling. They were drawn to RTV because of its ability to make a prince from a pauper (as in American Idol, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, etc.) which appeal to the American dream. Furthermore, many enjoy RTV because of its riveting competiveness. Viewers of RTV are stilled appalled at the levels of corruption displayed by contestants—who sometimes act on the basest human instincts of “natural selection.” However, RTV shows still increase in numbers every year.

Before writing this essay, I facebooked and tweeted a few coworkers and friends to learn of their favorite Reality TV shows.  What are your favorite Reality TV shows?

Thanks to @shuey03, @robynstorms, @sudophp, @lmgilson, @Tiana_Lei, and @thymas11.

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