When “The Real World” hit television ten years ago, eyes were glued to TV sets tuned in to seven strangers living together in a New York City apartment. It was a new and novel idea. Who would have ever thought that people would want to watch other people just living their lives?
Whenever I think of reality-based TV, I think of the “Seinfeld” episode where Jerry and George go into NBC and tell the executives they are going to do a show about nothing. That is what the original “The Real World” was, a show about nothing. Yet ratings soared, and the station responded with subsequent seasons with varying locations and increasing personality clashes, and so MTV gave birth to reality-based TV.
The station followed “The Real World” with “Road Rules” and eventually created competition between the two shows by combining casts and even highlighting personality conflicts. Verbal altercations serve to heighten tensions between cast members. I am sure it would surprise no one if we were to find out that when casting, MTV picks the cast in hopes of conflict. Such a no-holds-barred policy has brought private problems into mainstream culture. People watch the drama unfold and later discuss the events with friends and co-workers as if these characters were close personal friends. Problems in the show reflect real life dilemmas; yet some thrive on the dramatics of such shows and bring it into their own lives. “The Real World” was just the start.
With reality shows on the rise, are our lives so pathetic and purposeless that we need to watch other people’s lives to be entertained? With reality-based television growing in popularity, it seems sad that American society has sunk this low.
As television expands to encompass the daily drama of everyday life, we are defeating the purpose of entertainment. Reality shows contain no story line, no character development and no acting. Are we so dismally fated as to sit and watch other people live their lives as a source of enjoyment and leisure? Reality based programming seems to be designed for those people who thrive on drama; these people want to add drama in their lives. Most of us are content to deal with our own problems, but there are those among us who thrive off other people’s personal trials and tribulations. These are the same people who always need to know the new gossip, concern themselves in others personal affairs, and are the cause of unnecessary stress.
I am sure “Temptation Island” was Christmas come early for these people who allow programming incorporating entertainers’ intimate emotions and dilemmas to bring elevated tension to their own lives. As a society, do we really want to breed individuals needing this heightened interpersonal drama to feel complete? I hope not.
-The writer is a sophomore majoring in psychology.