Reality TV started out with good intentions with shows like the PBS sociological breakthrough series The American Family back in January 1973.The American Family brought the life of the Loud family into the living rooms of over 10 million viewers through a 12-part documentary series. The Louds were representative of a typical middle-class American family living in California. Viewers were riveted by the real-life drama of a home where marital tensions led up to a divorce, and one of their children was openly gay. It did much to change the perception of a “typical” family. MTV’s The Real World was inspired by The American Family, and is credited with launching today’s reality TV genre. The Real World focused on bringing together a group of strangers to live in a house for several months and delved into their lives, trials, and tribulations.
Who knew that what would eventually follow would be an onslaught of reality TV? And just to be clear: the term “reality” needs to be used very loosely here, as many of these shows are at least partially scripted. Some producers claim that they are simply providing guidance to their “stars,” but the level of scripting is certainly determined by their quest for higher ratings, so that level is probably quite high on most shows.
Some have argued that reality TV is making us smarter, even when it’s stupid, because no matter how scripted or regurgitated the production may be, it forces us to look beyond the action to find any true meaning. It can be really difficult to buy into that theory when you are discussing shows like Honey Boo-Boo, about the dysfunctional family of a child beauty pageant contestant, who incidentally spun off from Toddlers & Tiaras, which centers on exploitation of minors; or Keeping Up with the Kardashians, a family of the famous being famous in a scripted setting; or Housewives of any flavor.
In a recent poll, we found the following reality shows to be among people’s favorites, in addition to those mentioned above:
Duck Dynasty: All about a family who became wealthy from running a duck call fabrication business. This could have been called the Louisiana Hillbillies, although there’s probably already one out there with that title.
Storage Wars: Buyers of deadbeat storage lockers battle to outbid each other during auctions. Amazingly, these guys consistently find unusual and valuable items hidden among the junk abandoned in the lockers they buy. Almost too good to be true? Yes it is, as one participant has already admitted that producers arranged tohave the interesting finds planted.
Deadliest Catch: A Discovery Channel staple, this show focuses on what is supposedly the most dangerous job in the world: crab fishing in the Bering Sea. Sometimes they reel in the crab trap and it’s empty, and sometimes it’s full. Then, they are either, respectively, sad or happy. And sometimes someone falls overboard.
Taxi Cab Confessions: Composed of “hidden-camera” interviews where the cab driver is actually a producer. The driver prompts fares to discuss their personal lives. Who in their right mind opens up like this to a taxi driver? OK, 90% of them are drunk and/or high, but still.
Big Rich Texas: Rich Texan socialites and their debutante daughters. That’s all folks.
Dirty Jobs: Here the host goes alongside a worker or team of workers who perform a dirty, disgusting, or strange job to explore the realities associated with it. At the end of every show, the host begs viewers to send in suggestions for future episodes because, as if we weren’t already aware, they had run out of ideas long ago.
Repo Men: Their slogan is “stealing for a living,” and they repossess cars, trucks, and boats. If you like fight clubs, then this is the show for you: brawl city here.
Miami Ink: Follows a group of tattoo artists because we all have tattoos now and wouldn’t that be a great idea? The show concluded in 2008, but had several spin offs, including LA Ink, NY Ink, London Ink, and Madrid Ink.
Total Divas: The girls of the WWE and their trials and tribulations outside and inside the ring. The performers use their real names instead of their “ring” names because even though the WWE is totally fake, this show is real.
Breaking Amish: Centers on the lives of Anabaptist young adults when they experience the outside world. Series took a lot of heat when it was publicized that it was fake.
Amish Mafia: This show follows Lebanon Levi and his band of enforcers in Lebanon County, PA as they protect the Amish community. Drunk driving, devil possessions, and all kinds of strange things going on here.
Swamp People: Cajun people in the swamps of Louisiana and Texas, who, you guessed it, hunt alligators. You may hope the alligators win.
Alaskan Women Looking for Love: Ladies looking to get out of Alaska and find love some 5000 miles away in Miami Beach because… I don’t know.
The Jersey Shore: A house full of Guido wanna-bees in worthless situations. Were any of these people even from New Jersey? A few spin-offs here that, thankfully, never took off. Let’s never speak of this again.
Teen Mom: 16 years old and pregnant. Should we mention that one of the participants recently starred in the Backdoor Teen Mom porn movie? No, we probably shouldn’t, and just move on.
Pawn Stars: Las Vegas is the locale here for a family-run shop that buys and sells people’s stuff. There are a lot of interpersonal conflicts within the family that do not seem contrived whatsoever. It’s the Antiques Roadshow gone Vegas, except that venerable PBS series is an actual reality show.
Doctors’ Wives: The lives of several high-powered doctors’ wives who feel neglected. Why?
Say Yes to the Dress: Get inside the bridal shops as women make their choice for a perfect wedding dress. They usually have an entourage to assist them. Bridezillas galore.
People say that everyone loves a train wreck. Maybe that’s why these shows and reality series like Jon and Kate Plus 8 become so popular. Many confess to reality TV being their guilty pleasure, or a way to relax, so perhaps there is some value here? Or is it simply mind numbing and making us stupid?
If it is just a guilty pleasure, there is a new show airing in this genre that could pleasure a lot of pornography lovers. It’s called The Sex Box, and the premise is that there is a sound-proof box in the middle of a studio audience where 3 couples (2 straight and 1 gay) will be invited to have sex and then come out and discuss the experience with the show host, a psychotherapist, a sex columnist, and a relationship expert. To keep the audience entertained while the intercourse is occurring, they will be taking winners of a porn fan contest and giving them opportunities to date a porn star. The show is debuting in the UK this year, and the producers are proclaiming that they hope to reclaim sex from pornography. Newsflash: this show is pornography.
Is reality TV going too far? Was that the whole point of this article, or has my brain gone numb from watching these shows?
- Arkell H. Couples to have sex in studio for TV show intended to ‘reclaim sex from pornography.’ Daily Mail Web site. September 23, 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2429812/Sex-Box-Mariellas-Frostrups-Channel-4-intended-reclaim-sex-pornography.html.
- Lance Loud: a death in an American family. PBS Web site. http://www.pbs.org/lanceloud/american/.
- McCracken G. Why reality TV doesn’t suck, and may even make us smarter. Wired.com. October 4, 2012. http://www.wired.com/opinion/2012/10/why-reality-tv-doesnt-suck-and-may-even-make-us-smarter/.
- Mclaughlin E. Former ‘Storage Wars’ star files lawsuit claiming show is fake. ABC News Web site. December 13, 2012. http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/storage-wars-star-files-lawsuit-claiming-show-fake/story?id=17948408.
- Moylan B. Reality TV is making us smarter, even when it’s stupid. Hollywood.com. October 5, 2012. http://www.hollywood.com/news/tv/41707137/reality-tv-is-making-us-smarter-even-when-it-s-stupid?page=all.