As a reality TV junkie, I think we’ve become dependent on these kinds of shows for both our entertainment and our own fulfillment. Unfortunately for the majority of TV viewers, this type of programming isn’t going anywhere. Reality television is able to keep up with demand given the abundance of “talent”, or everyday people willing to expose their lifestyles to the world. Reality television makes us feel better about ourselves as human beings since we see other people experiencing some of our same problems. We’re also interested in other people’s lives and their drama. “It’s human nature to be curious about others,” says Gary Stone, a social worker with the Lehigh Valley Hospital Health Network. “We want to know how people handle difficult situations, and that our own difficulties aren’t that outlandish.”
Reality shows perform tremendously well in terms of ratings and in terms of the cash flow that follows their participants. The stars of these programs often become overnight celebrities, leapfrogging the years of hard work Hollywood actors have put in to get the fame and status they currently enjoy. Of course the recognition that comes with a reality show is not as enduring, but it works for the moment.
In an attempt to understand our society’s “addiction” to reality television, Behavioral Health Central consulted Dr. Reef Karim . A Psychiatrist and addiction specialist, Dr. Karim founded The Beverly Hills Center for Self Control & Lifestyle Addictions.
In his responses to Behavioral Health Central’s inquiry about reality TV, Dr. Kareem explains that reality shows make the fantasy of celebrity status accessible to anyone. In addition, he describes this type of programming as a “voyeuristic digestion of “reality”‘, which reminds us that as viewers we think we’re getting a sneak peek at something (when really we’re not). Dr. Karim also believes that we identify with the characters on these shows because they “openly display their eccentricities and/or pathology across our television screens”. We get to watch individuals experiencing and expressing every emotion under the sun, and this makes us feel better since we can relate.
As for why we can’t stop watching reality television? The answer to this question might lie with another one of Dr. Karim’s explanations for its popularity: “It’s much safer to watch it play out on television than to experience it ourselves,” he says.
Such an explanation certainly makes sense when one considers the enjoyment they get out of seeing their favorite character engage in hair-pulling drama on a show like The Real Housewives. We love watching all of the action, but from the comfort of our living room sofa. Before it comes to this, though, we get drawn into the characters of reality TV shows and their accompanying drama. We might not want to admit it, but they’ve got us emotionally invested in their actions.
For those other kinds of reality television, i.e. MTV’s “True Life” series, seeing a world much darker than our own makes us appreciate what we have. Each episode of True Life follows a particular topic and several people who are dealing with the topic in their own lives. Past subjects of the documentary series have included heroin addiction, organ transplants, Tourette’s syndrome, pregnancy, and Gambling addiction. Sometimes we identify with the individuals featured in the program if we feel we are struggling with the same issue. Shows like “True Life” give us an outlet for our stress and anguish. They can also be educational.
As human beings it makes sense that we love reality TV. If it’s not entertainment, then these shows can be guides for us in featuring everyday people facing real-life problems. Finally, these programs give us a reality check, (no pun intended) by reminding us of our good fortune.