Reality TV first came onto the scene when MTV stuck seven strangers into a New York City loft together in 1992 in hopes they would stop being polite and start being ‘real.’ After “The Real World, “the fascination with reality took off. As TIME Magazine put it, “In 1992, reality TV was a novelty. In 2000, it was a fad. In 2010, it’s a way of life.” Nowadays, it seems next-to-impossible to turn on the TV without stumbling across a reality show, but are these glamorized scenarios true reality? And what happens when people can’t distinguish the real version of the truth from the scripted?
First, let’s just get it out of the way – reality shows are not entirely real. Yes, there is a script. Sorry to burst your bubble. Watching boring conversations and scenarios would be, well, boring. So, they dramatize the situations and instigate some tears. It’s all for good TV, right?
Situations are not the only thing controversial about reality television – concepts are getting a lot of flak as well. Teen pregnancy has almost become glamorized with MTV’s shows “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom.” Young girls on the show, who find themselves pregnant, are compensated an average of $5,000 per episode. This is a desirable paycheck for anyone, let alone a struggling young mother. Cable TV network MTV released a statement saying that “the show has been called one of the best public service announcements for preventing teen pregnancy because it is a gritty, unvarnished look at the reality of unplanned teen pregnancy.” But raising a baby with a film crew around and having an income for a youthful mistake is far from the reality of what teenage parenting looks like.
Then there are some shows that make those who appear on the show more contestants than characters. On extreme challenge shows like NBC’s “Fear Factor,” participants eat all types of bugs and animal parts that people would be very unlikely to dish up on their plates if the cameras weren’t rolling. Then there are dating shows, like ABC’s The Bachelor/Bachelorette, where members of the show travel all around the world just to go out with someone they met only a short time before at a luxurious California mansion. Neither of these situations can be considered anyone’s true reality and are simply televised competitions.
We also have TV shows with dramatic performances that are made to seem real – just look at the drama-filled and fame-obsessed couple from MTV’s “The Hills,” Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag. The show followed the lives of privileged young people from Beverly Hills, California who really only went to parties and occasionally showed up at a glamorous office. (Yes, this is what brought them fame). Pratt recently explained to “The Daily Beast” that being on the show distorted what was fact and what was fiction for him and his wife. “We were getting paid to be people we weren’t for so long that you stop – there’s no line. The gauge is gone. The gray area is gone.” If Spencer Pratt, the second most hated celebrity in America, can recognize how blurred the line has become, we know the rest of us can see it too. Image: gravitywell.com