Reality television is an addictingphenomenon that graces millions of televisions daily. From shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Life ofKylie, and Love and Hip Hop toseries like My Strange Addiction,Hoarders, and My 600-lb Life,reality TV has left its mark and impacted today’s society in more ways thanone. It has slithered into mass media to dominate lives and focus on “real”events or situations that have long term effects on its viewers. This brand oftelevision serves as a reflection of society and often exploits itsparticipants if not glamorizes a certain lifestyle that may seem unattainableto its viewers. For example, theKardashians represent success and the achievement of the American dream that, tomany, is elusive. Through the dramatization of mental illness, Hoardersexploits its viewers and reinforces the perception of these people as outsiderswhich lead to further marginalization and hiding of hoarding behavior. Shows that look down on andcriticize certain lifestyles, such as Hoarders,function as a cautionary story and is put out to the public as a warning of hownot to live. “Lifestyle-themed programs are also connected to broadercampaigns, orchestrated by private and public “partners” to promote desiredbehaviors such as delayed parenting and healthy eating” (Oullette).
With this program, A tends tosensationalize these people and sends the message to its audience that thisbehavior is monstrous and should be avoided at all costs. A chooses todramatize the manifestation of hoarding as opposed to using the platform to getto the root of hoarding for both the viewers and the hoarders themselves. Althoughsome episodes are less offensive than others, Hoarders exploits its subjects and interferes with the viewer’spotential for empathy.
“The “ordinary celebrity” promised by television, andthe incitement to “perform the real” for ratings, accentuates thesepossibilities and constraints, and raises important questions about whetherordinary people are empowered or exploited through nonfiction and realityprogramming” (Oullette). Instead of encouraging proper treatment it presentshoarding as something that is impossible to relate to and rather thansympathize, viewers are meant to feel sorry for the hoarders but not understandthe disorder. Through pressure and coercion, they “clean out” a hoarded home inless than a week which needle away at the audience for emotional reactions. Theshow does not promote the idea of long-term cognitive behavior therapy to helppeople change the nature of their attachment to possessions, but instead clearsa house of clutter which in the long run will not stop hoarding impulses. On the other end of the spectrum,there are shows that depict money as the ultimate form of success, whether itis the ability to own homes, buy products, or send kids to expensive schools.Because Americans are focused on a consumerist culture and material goods,audiences buy into shows such as KeepingUp with the Kardashians or Life ofKylie. Reality television is used asa tool to draw viewers in and bait them with ads and commercials to keep themlocked into this consumerist lifestyle. Lifeof Kylie sells viewers across the world a lifestyle that very few canafford by marketing it as the American Dream.
“The lifestyling of televisionencompasses a spate of reality entertainment built around the lives – anddistinctive lifestyles – of aspirational and exoticized “others”, includingtabloid celebrities, upscale housewives, rich kids ….” (Oullette). Realitytelevision shows depict the lives of high class, rich, individuals who thrive offmaterialistic items, drama, and fame. “The invitation to fashion ourselves andestheticize and manage our everyday lives involves pleasure and agency, but ithas also become an imperative that flattens the politics of difference and contributesto the idea that we can all be who we choose to be. Television perpetuates thisimperative buy suggesting that anyone can achieve the “good life” if theyfollow the guidance of experts, participate in the right brand cultures and areself-enterprising” (Oullette).
Viewers allow programs like this to determine”reality” for them and makes audiences feel that buying expensive items willgive them satisfaction and fame thus fueling ideas surrounding consumerism. Shows like Lifeof Kylie encourage young people to participate in consumerism by bombardingthem with images of luxury, whereas,programs similar to Hoarders condemnpeople for living amongst their personal belongings while simultaneouslyencouraging them through commercials and paid programming to buy more things. “Theexpansion of cable and satellite channels geared to niche audiences= andspecialized lifestyle clusters links self-making to a consumerist sense ofcommunity and belonging. This programming sells tangible goods and services –but it also provides a cultural platform for constructing less obvious brandsof lifestyle based on symbolic meanings. In this sense, the lifestyling oftelevision is connected to new ways of generating profit in postindustrialcapitalist societies” (Oullette). There is an abundance of reality televisionshows that laud crass behavior and glorifies abuse while promoting unhealthyrelationships that elevate shallow personalities.
This type of programming airsmoments that were once considered private and takes multiple steps to demolishthe walls of privacy. By witnessing the most vulnerable moments of people’slives, audiences are forced to become voyeurs who feed on the misery, problems,and emotions of others. The satisfaction that voyeurism brings to audiencesserve as a form of both distraction and amusement. Despite the negative influencemultiple reality television shows have on society and the viewers that consumesuch content, it serves as an escape from reality. The profitability andpopularity of reality television has reshaped media and the way audiencereceives the information put out to them. This genre fulfills the needs ofsurveillance, personal identity, personal relationships, and escapism. Thesetypes of programs give viewers the ability to analyze the behavior of otherseither to understand themselves or make them feel better about their own lives.Aside from a chance to escape reality, some audience members enjoy theconsumption of shows like Hoardersbecause of the feeling of superiority it gives them.
Ironic consumers gainpleasure from making fun of the participants in these shows. They watch realitytelevision from an emotional distance without feeling connected to thecharacters or caring about their fates. Because of this detached viewing, thisperspective gives them the feeling of superiority not only over theparticipants of the show but of its conventional viewers as well. Most viewerswho enjoy such programs classify it as their guilty pleasure, indicating that whatthey are consuming is low-brow, contemporary, television.
“When TV viewers characterize an unscriptedshow as a “guilty pleasure,” they are acknowledging its questionable value”(Oullette). The use of the term guilty pleasure acknowledges the guilt ofwatching and supporting a show that degrades society. Television provides the idealplatform for emotion to be used as a powerful tool to engage audiences acrossthe world. Emotional engagement is one of the most vital components in the enjoymentof the viewer and without some form of emotional involvement it’ll be difficultfor the audience to enjoy the content. The communal experience of televisionand the social environment in which reality television is watched is what fuelsemotion.
Audiences watch this type of television in groups whether it is withfamily or friends, and with the use of social media interaction the group onlygrows. These programs are constructed to manipulate emotions only to revealthat things may not be as it seems. The appeal of reality television is rootedin the less orchestrated events making it seem more real.
Television viewersenjoy the idea of having access and the ability to tweet at any celebrity orinteracting with a real person that is not bound by a script. With their reallives in the public eye, those that are on reality television shows drawemotion from the audience keeping the audience locked in with a feeling ofobligation to continue watching the show.