Reality television has become very popular over the past decade with shows such as “Survivor”, “Big Brother” and “The Apprentice” attracting big audiences and making a lot of money for broadcasters worldwide. A definition of reality television is quite difficult but at its most basic it means programmes that show things really taking place, rather than drama or comedy that follows a script. Typically reality TV involves a group of people who are not trained actors being filmed in unusual situations over a period of time.
Sport and news programmes are not considered reality TV. Documentaries that explore aspects of society are a grey area, with some closer to news reporting and others blurring into reality TV because they set up situations which did not already exist. Recently celebrity versions of reality shows have made definition even harder, because they show the private lives of professional singers, actors, sportspeople, etc. as they cope with new situations.
Reality TV is often a hot topic as proponents believe it paints an unrealistic and inappropriate portrait and is therefore bad for our society and the children that make up the majority of the audience. They call for a cut in the number of hours given over to reality programmes, or even to ban them completely. Opponents meanwhile maintain that people should be allowed to watch what they like, and that reality programmes make good TV, as shown by consistently high viewer figures.
Reality TV is dishonest – it pretends to show “reality” but it actually distorts the truth to suit the programme makers. The shows are not really “real” – they are carefully cast to get a mix of “characters” who are not at all typical. Mostly they show a bunch of young, good-looking self-publicists, who will do anything to get on TV. Usually the programme makers try to ensure excitement by picking people who are likely to clash with each other.
They then place them in unnatural situations, such as the Big Brother house or the Survivor island, and give them strange challenges in order to provoke them into behaving oddly. In The Bachelor, where a group of women compete for the affections of an eligible male, the ‘intimate dates’ they go on are filmed in front of any number of camera; that is not reality (Poniewozik, 2003).
Finally the makers film their victims for hundreds of hours from all angles, but only show the most dramatic parts. Selective editing may be used to create “storylines” and so further manipulate the truth of what happened.
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