Imagine a regular day in an American household: you come home from
work or school, tired and stressed, you flop down on the couch, reach for the remote and
turn on the television, looking for an escape. “Oh, yes!” you exclaim when you find your
favorite reality television show is on. You reach for your drink and settle back to watch,
but what exactly is it that you are watching? Many people don’t realize the negative
messages their favorite shows may be sending. Most reality t.v shows have underlying
messages of degradation and humiliation of others, materialism and superficiality, and
the reinforcement of stereotypes. Is this really what we, as a society want as an influence
for ourselves and our kids?
The degradation and humiliation of others is a common theme we see threaded
throughout the most popular reality t.v. shows. It seems that the entertainment value of
these shows rises as the amount of disgrace and mortification of the characters increases.
In other words, people find more enjoyment at the distress and misfortune of others.
There is a word for this we have borrowed from the Germans, schadenfreude. This word
is defined as “the pleasure one receives at the suffering of others” (Reality Check). The
Bad Girls Club is a perfect example of this. In this show, 6 or 7 “bad” or misbehaved
young women, between the ages of 21 and 30, are thrown together in a house and are
encouraged to shock the audience with vulgarity and oftentimes violence. In one
particular episode, “Life’s a Bleach” two of the characters on the show decide they do
not like another girl and elect to get her kicked out of the house, which can only happen
if the physical violence of one participant towards a co-star reaches a certain point. The
girls devise a plan to do and say whatever they can to get the other girl out. The two run
up the stairs to the victims room and begin yelling and screaming in her face, calling her
all sorts of names as well as telling her to leave. When they realize the yelling hasn’t had
the effect they were hoping for, the two girls move on to terrorizing the victim. They
proceed to do this by smashing the other girl’s possessions and pouring anything they can
find all over her room. When the victim still appears to not be fazed, they opt for a more
direct approach. One of the aggressors runs to the kitchen and grabs bottles of
condiments and other such substances while the other hits the bathroom, each appearing
in the bedroom once again, this time both hands equipped with “weapons.” They hurdle
themselves at the girl and begin pouring and heaving things at her, until she is dripping
wet and covered in unknown substances. The girl finally retaliates when she grabs a
bottle of bleach and throws it at the other two, where it lands all over their clothes and
hair. Not one of these three girls went home that night, which may be appalling after such
a vicious attack on other human beings. In fact, the two assailants spent the entire season
terrorizing other housemates, in hopes of kicking out the most people in the show’s
history. This example depicts not only how desensitized people have become to the pain
of others, but how it is now embraced as entertainment. It is not healthy to be amused
when others are humiliated and degraded, but that is exactly what reality t.v. has brought
our nation to believe.
Materialism and superficiality are other reoccurring themes we see in the world of
reality t.v. Materialism is described as “the preoccupation with or emphasis on material
things” (Dictionary.com). The accentuation of having the best and most expensive items
on the market would be materialism. We see a lot of this on shows such as The Real
Housewives of New Jersey. One of the participants, Teresa Guidice builds a new home
during one of the seasons. She goes from store to store, focusing on having...
Cited: Dictionary.com | Find the Meanings and Definitions of Words at Dictionary.com. Web. 2
Oct. 2011. .
Jaffe, Eric. "Reality Check." APS: Association for Psychological Science. Mar. 2005.
Web. 25 Sept. 2011.
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