By: Amanda Watkins
Classy. Creative. Underrated.
These are the things reality TV is not.
It’s harsh, I know, and even though it’s the truth, I admit to spending a decent number of hours a week parked in front of the TV yelling at the stars of TLC with my housemates.
Endless public service announcements and parental chats have warned us not to believe everything we see on TV, but for some reason, this depiction of “real life” is still deemed to be believable. What tunes us into reality television and what makes us stick around for more?
Maybe it’s because life is more exciting when it’s injected with sparks of adventure and humour at ideal moments, perfectly scripted to balance a person’s needs and wants. Reality television: it’s real life, complete with real writers, a real landscape, and a mostly real cast- minus a few cosmetic surgeries here and there. And knowing all of this, what still leads us to believe that reality TV can be our reality?
Nobody wants to be a loser...unless it’s The Biggest
It sucks to lose. Be it a coin toss or the lottery, it can be difficult to accept the fact that often, everyday life features various scenarios that involve a dissatisfaction with the outcome. This being said, one of the most enticing characteristics of reality shows is the win/lose aspect: there is always someone you can root for after winning and someone you can berate and belittle after losing. Most people do not want to see themselves as losers, making it liberating to see another person place last- especially when they’re on a television show being broadcast to millions of other people. It’s a relief to know that somebody is suffering more than you.
When our candidate of choice wins on American Idol, or the single lady we love to hate on The Bachelor gets voted off, the satisfaction of being right leads to a rewarding feeling and a temporary boost in our serotonin levels, similar to when we do surprisingly well on an assignment or exam.
So You Think You Can Be Judgemental?
The power to be opinionated is what developed the social structure of our society, and it is this same force that drives people to tune in to scripted real life television.
“The reason for watching different shows is something different for everyone,” explained Christine Quail, professor in the department of Communications Studies and Multimedia, whose recent studies on reality television involved the decoding of audience behaviour in relation to the show So You Think You Can Dance Canada.
“Some people watch because they enjoy dance... or to pull for a certain person... but some audience members were more interested in seeing the ‘joke’ performers,” she continued.
Although some viewers tune in for the genuine reason of enjoying the exhibition of a personal hobby or interest, one aspect of reality TV that reels in the masses is the open invitation to judge and critique performers in the comfort of your own home. It’s nice to feel like an expert and be able to comment on truly quality performances as well as the less than noteworthy but still humorous to witness.
The William Hungs of the world provide entertainment as well as an outlet for viewers to release their need to be at the top of the food chain. By having someone to comment on, spectators are able to take part in gossipy activities that do not result in negative whiplash in their personal lives. They are able to freely comment on the goings on of the show without directly hurting or affecting the person.
The Amazing Escape
“What a lot of people do not realize is that these are actual people- you can’t really ‘escape’ by watching something real,” explained Quail when approaching the topic of escapism and reality TV.
Instead of calling reality TV an ‘escape’ from daily life, it can be better defined as a fantasy world. It is non-committal, requires little thought processing, and fulfills our desires to feel like winners and freely express our opinions and power without judgement. We can live vicariously through the adventurously dramatic lives of the Kardashians and be distracted by the shenanigans of Amish settlers breaking free in New York City. It’s a warm and cozy distraction that allows us to mindlessly indulge in the mistakes of others and fantasize about a lifestyle that is so carefree, scripted and easy to follow as those of the reality stars being broadcast into our homes. The stars of reality TV appear to living the dream. And what better fantasy is there to dream of than that of life itself?