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Influence of Reality Shows on Society
One cannot talk about modern television without mentioning a few fleeting words about reality shows. These shows have swarmed the television program schedule and become a staple in the twenty-first-century television culture. The omnipresence of these shows can be attributed to the fact that, compared to scripted drama, they are relatively quick to produce and edit and gather a large audience invested in them.
What are Reality Shows?
Reality shows that gain the highest traffic record the lived experiences of famous personalities allotted tasks by the show host. These shows gain such an audience because they make viewers feel as if they have an insight into these celebrities' private lives. What further sustains a viewer's attention is the scripted conflict between its contestants. Most of it is perceived as harmless entertainment, but there has been widespread discussion about the impact such shows have on society, particularly youth. The tendency of reality shows to blur the line between fact and fiction may impact the impressionable minds of youth. The text below will discuss the concern in detail.
Positive and Negative Impact
A study published in the International Journal of Scientific Research (IJSR) in 2015 by Ayushi and Shalini studied the effect of reality shows on adolescent personality and found the results to be two-fold. They not only inquired about the negative influences but also the positive ones.
The 2015 study devised the following ways reality television could positively impact adolescents −
Make yourself emotionally strong
Provide a platform to display talent
Improves communication skills
Provides the opportunity to participate
Exposes unknown talent
The study observed samples from government and private schools in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India, and found that, although private school students are most likely to be positively affected by such shows, this raises the question of whether such shows can also have a noticeable positive impact on the population. The blending of reality and fiction causes the viewer to identify with the characters on the show and may adopt the positive values they demonstrate. Moreover, there is something to be said about the contestants on shows like "Indian Idol" and "India's Got Talent," who may inspire budding artists to hone their skills and showcase their talent.
A study by Portrtaz in 2007 found that reality shows were responsible for instilling open-mindedness in the audience for underrepresented groups like the queer community. Such observations only reinforce the notion that influence of any sort is double-edged and can be used to create something meaningful as well as something shallow and expedient.
The IJSR study mentioned above also gave a glimpse of the negative impacts of reality shows. Unfortunately, the literature on reality shows leans much more toward the adverse effects they may have than the other way around. The IJSR study identified the following ways such shows could negatively impact their audience−
Use of abusive words
Displays drugs and alcohol
Presents a way of life characterized by crime and violence
Shows declining moral standards
Displaying personal problems openly
Showing intimate scenes
Squandering time and energy
The study only inquired whether the participants found such themes in the television shows and did not judge their impact. However, this gives us an avenue for further research, as described below.
Body Image Problems
A study by Flynn in 2015 found that 74 percent of men and 69 percent of women in reality television shows had low body fat. The issue of media and its impact on body image has been a topic that has gained traction in recent times. This has come after symptoms of mild eating disorders have surfaced in viewers of appearance-based reality shows, as found by Suplee in 2014. These shows contain much deception, as the contestants rarely live a realistic lifestyle. The depiction of an ideal body, which is difficult for the average viewer to obtain, may cause mental distress.
A study by Ferris and colleagues in 2007 found a correlation between viewership of reality dating shows and the adoption of the values depicted in them in men. Reality shows tend to portray romantic relationships unrealistically. The director's goal is to create and deliver a thrilling experience to the audience that will get them invested in the show. However entertaining as the drama may seem, it is not ideal for sustaining a healthy relationship.
Reality television signifies a lavish, opulent lifestyle characterized by grand estate mansions and sports cars. An essay by Laura Perks published in 2015 describes how reality shows enforce the "American dream," which is unattainable by the average viewer. She states that "the stories of the few lucky reality show participants who "win" a prestigious occupation, a fiancée, or expensive additions to their private property provide narrative support for the myth that hard work will necessarily result in the attainment of the American dream."
Structural economic barriers are firmly entrenched in American society, yet these success narratives obscure the relative impermeability of glass walls. What is highlighted is a state of contrast between the "haves" and "have nots," which leads to a highly problematic situation where one stays resentful about their class and status yet keeps watching these shows to lose themselves in an idealized world.
Reality shows are a double-edged sword when it comes to having an impact on their audience. On the one hand, they platform unrepresented groups and build empathy for them. On the other hand, they may instill expedient values in young and impressionable viewers who may not be capable of separating the hyper-reality of television from the truly mundane reality of their lives.
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