prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Reality TV Heroes and Villains

Posted by prof e on March 18, 2010

The MCCNM faculty have been attending and presenting at an academic conference each year for the past several years. The conference is an annual meeting of the Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery, or SISSI for short. Each year the conference organizers select a theme, and people from across the country and around the world travel to Colorado to present and discuss topics related to the theme. This year the theme was the Image of the Hero in Society, and as a department we decided to write papers about the image of the hero in the mass media. The title of my presentation, Reality TV Pseudo-Heroes and Villains: Moral Compromise and the Quest for Infamy, is a play on the name of the 20th season of the reality TV show Survivor: Heroes and Villains. The Cliff Notes version of my presentation is as follows.

  • Reality TV is a trends that is not going away. According to Nielsen, four of the top five regularly scheduled TV programs in 2009 were reality TV shows and according to TV Guide, the trend is continuing in 2010.
  • America’s obsession with reality TV programming has spawned a fascination with reality TV as a path to fame and fortune, at any cost. Problems arise when we, as a society, fail to differentiate between heroism and celebrity. We diminish the value of heroic acts and we place celebrity on a pedestal where it becomes the ultimate goal but has no correlation to achievement. Many years before reality TV burst on the scene, Daniel Boorstin understood the problem. He wrote, “…the electronic hero is famous simply for appearing on or in the media, not for any intrinsic qualities.”
  • Recent events in the news suggest that the lure of instant celebrity offered by reality TV leads to some pretty despicable behavior. For example, the Heenes (parents of Balloon Boy) and the Salahis (Whitehouse party crashers).
  • Those who become reality TV “stars” demonstrate similar failure to possess anything remotely resembling heroic character. Take Jon Gosselin, Octomom Nadya Suleman, disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blogojevich (on this season’s Celebrity Apprentice), and the entire cast of Jersey Shore. Seriously, take them, take them all…please!

In the presentation I spoke of research that a colleague and I had conducted. We surveyed approximately 530 students from five colleges and universities in the US and Canada We found that the number one reason for college students’ choosing to watch reality TV is perceived “personal identification with real characters”…the sense that the people on the small screen were just like them. From there it becomes pretty easy to image yourself in their shoes, with all the fame and fortune that accompanies the role. Pretty soon you’re trying out for American Idol or thinking about how great it would be if you could be a contestant on the next installment of Real World.

In conclusion, the very same qualities that help us identify with reality TV stars is what makes them so appealing to us. The fact that we can see ourselves in their shoes, if only for that one lucky break, is what keeps us coming back for more. The capitalist myth that anyone can be successful, famous, and wealthy has run its course and is now made evident by celebrity heroes who, through luck and discovery (being in the right place at the right time) have made it to the big time. Reality TV stars are precisely appealing because we all believe that we could be just as famous/rich/happy/etc. as that person on the screen because they  really are no different than us. Think about it…who doesn’t know somebody, who knows somebody, who tried out for American Idol. Unlike the Hollywood stars of yesteryear, today’s reality TV stars did not fall to earth from some celestial orbit…they came from just down the street.

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11 Responses to “Reality TV Heroes and Villains”

  1. Megan Tingle said

    Even though reality T.V. is certainly something huge that is going on right now, I still have to say that there is better televistion out there. In fact I prefer the scripted series over reality TV most of the time. While there is cerntainly something to be said about “relating” to the character or thinking that you could be the next star. I use TV more for an entertainment purpose instead of dreaming that my life is going to change if I can only figure out what I need to be on this show. TV is TV and I only see very little reality in that.

  2. Labrittany Coleman said

    Today in our society reality T.V. is something big and its been going on for a couple of years now. Reality T.V has taken it to a different level of TV.I watch reality TV more than i watch scripted sitcoms or dramas,i dont know the reason why im interested more in reality TV maybe because i went through something that the person went or its just nice to hear there story about there life. Most people that go onto reality TV mainly want to become famous and start their career or be known from that show. TV is going to be TV, and some reality TV shows dont even show the real reality of life, they just want people to think its a reality so they get more viewers to watch.

  3. Patrick Smith said

    Reality TV started off as something small, and then worked it’s way up in the years. For example: “Divorce Court”, and the “People’s Court” to just name a few. Then as the years progressed the reality shows, because actuallity shows. To where anybody can become part of the big picture. So we relate ourselves to the poeple that we see on TV. We think to ourselves “I can do that”, and so that is whole idea that the producers and creators of these show think up when making them. That also sucks in more viewers every day.

  4. Quaneisha Collins said

    Growing up as a child I would watch shows like Barney, Power Rangers, and all the shows on Cartoon Network,Nick, and the Disney Channel. These shows were all great because as a child I had a large imagination and could see myself becoming a yellow Power Ranger. Watching Sister Sister, I always thought that if you do as you are told that nothing bad could happen, because you did what your parents said. Now that I have become a more mature women I feel that life is not always what you want it to be. For example just because Sabrina the teenage witch wished for her favorite movie star to appear before her doesn’t mean that Lamman Rucker will appear since I wished hard enough. Reality tv is sometimes what I prefer to watch,because the drama may not always be real but the people and the personality clashes, and backstabbing, and problems are real. The reality is that the things that I am seeing on the tv could actually happen to me in real life. The show 16 and pregnat, shows how girls that are to young to be having children, and deal with the responsiblites are really dealing with having to grow up and be a parent. The Secret Life of an American Teenager gives what everyone would hope for a young girl who is pregnat, a supportive family, a baby dad that wants to be around, and a network of friends that want too help with the baby just as much as the family does. Since sitcoms are not as real and give only the extremes to life situations, reality is the best thing that people can relate to

  5. Quaneisha Collins said

    Growing up as a child I would watch shows like Barney, Power Rangers, and all the shows on Cartoon Network,Nick, and the Disney Channel. These shows were all great because as a child I had a large imagination and could see myself becoming a yellow Power Ranger. Watching Sister Sister, I always thought that if you do as you are told that nothing bad could happen, because you did what your parents said. Now that I have become a more mature woman I feel that life is not always what you want it to be. For example just because Sabrina the teenage witch wished for her favorite movie star to appear before her doesn’t mean that Lamman Rucker will appear since I wished hard enough. Reality tv is sometimes what I prefer to watch, because the drama may not always be real but the people and the personality clashes, and backstabbing, and problems are real. The reality is that the things that I am seeing on the tv could actually happen to me in real life. The show 16 and pregnant shows how girls that are to young to be having children, and deal with the responsibilities are really dealing with having to grow up and be a parent. The Secret Life of an American Teenager gives what everyone would hope for a young girl who is pregnant, a supportive family, a baby dad that wants to be around, and a network of friends that want too help with the baby just as much as the family does. Since sitcoms are not as real and give only the extremes to life situations, reality is the best thing that people can relate to

  6. jackie perea said

    i think this blog makes a good point talking about how the media today is making people like reality tv stars seem like heros to the people in our society today. Reality tv shows are increasing everyday and it seems like there is a reality show for everything. People respond and are entertain to see people living their daily lives which is why so many of them are becoming popular. however looking up to these people as successful looks over the fact that many people didnt have to work hard to acheive this success they just got lucky making it onto a reality show.

  7. Kameron Wilhite said

    In our society today reality TV has taken over. I think that it has because in most cases it is cheaper for the TV people to make. I mean they get average joe’s off the streets that are looking to become famous for reality tv, and for scripted series they get real actors and actresses and have to deal with agents and all that. I think that reality is so much more popular for the fact they get regular people not professionals and they purposely pick different personalities to create drama in on the show to make it interesting. I am a fan of reality Tv but there are so many on now it is hard to keep up. I think that they should be able to show their show for a year and take it off for a year or two kind of like the Olympics if they showed them every year it wouldn’t be as interesting but since they don’t it keeps people wanting to see them when it comes on again. For example the reality TV show “America’s Next Top Dance Crew” I love the show but I think that the first one was amazing and no one will ever forget the Jabawacees, but after that first one I feel the show kept getting worse and worse and I feel that if they took it off the air for a year that dancers would train their butts off and when the next one came on it would be that much better.

  8. Greg Morrell said

    Reality TV is an antagonizing program for the younger people and other TV viewers to take part in. As much as I hear, “Oh I hate reality TV, it’s so pointless,” I see more and more people watching reality TV. Like my mom for example talks about how stupid reality shows are but when The Bachelor or The Bachelorette comes on she is glued to the TV. It may be that we want the equal opportunity that these normal people get to have the experience, fame, or money, but it actually may be that we can just simply relate to these people because they are in real life situation doing real life things. Relating to these people and seeing them do things that are real spikes interest in us because we want to see them succeed or fail in the things that they are trying for. Overall I like reality TV, not because I want to be them, but seeing these random people doing something interesting in a reality program set up by professionals interests me.

  9. Patrick Carey said

    I am not a fan of reality tv and seldom watch it, i think that its unrealistic to try and relate to people you see on tv even realty tv stars, because even though it is reality its not all that it seems. Tv producers edit those shows to depict people in a certain way so its hardly reality to me and I think that it is just plain stupid to idolize people on reality tv.

  10. Gina Ortega said

    I am a huge fan of reality TV. For example I love “The Hills,” “16 and Pregnant,” “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” and “The Girls Next Door.” To me reality TV is a great way to experience what other people get to experience. The cast of “The Hills” are spoiled rich people, but it is almost imspiring to me to watch them and know that I want to have the money they have. I love watching these shows, but it is also a downer it makes people want something that is probably not possible. It makes them envious of someone else’s life and begins to take a poll on someones life. I think that reality tv is addicting and will remain trendy year to year.

  11. Angel Smith said

    There are many reasons why reality shows are appealing. For one, people liked being entertained by watching the lives of the rich and famous and people trying to overcome obstacles in their lives. Second when watching reality shows people can identify multiple characteristics that they see in themselves in characters on certain shows. Watching these shows can either encourage individuals to strive to reach higher financial stability in order to live as these reality show individuals or reach dreams as the characters, or show them that they can overcome obstacles just the characters. On the other side, individuals become comfortable watching characters live the life they would want to live and instead of working towards anything they stay stagnant and don’t progress in life.

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