“I see you’ve changed your clothes and have come dressed ready for a night on the town” I said as I opened the door for a visiting friend. Dressed in a button down shirt adorned with a gaudy array of rhinestones and crosses, denim jeans that looked like they were previously owned by a homeless cowboy; and to top off the whole ensemble, he wore pointy boots that could be used alternatively as weapons of mass destruction. He gave me a confused look and asked where he could put his stuff down and get out of his work clothes. He was not at all dressed in a professional manner nor could I even call it business casual.
I couldn’t be sure but I think he may have even fist pumped his way to my house from a Jersey Shore episode. This is only one case of many. Furthermore this example epitomizes the effects Reality TV has had on popular culture today. Additional effects felt can be directly related to the influx of available information through technological advancement; With all the gadgets and gizmos out there like TiVo, Smartphones, and the iPad you are no longer held back by inconvenient boundaries set by network scheduling; you can take your daily fix of American Idol and Housewives of insert city here, when and wherever you choose.
ABC, NBC, and CBS once considered “The Big Three” have also had to keep up with the permutation this cultural phenomenon has brought on. Along with technological advances and the networks keeping up, as a culture we are experiencing a dependency on theexceedingly abnormal and outrageous. Popular culture is confronted with a leakage of, once comical, stereotypes such as the Drama Queen, the Roid-rager, and the Self-centered martyr into the normal behavioral mainstream.
ConsequentlyReality TV has dramatically changed from its popularity in the nineties, to metastasizing into a full-blown epidemic causing New Millennium Reality television to insidiously morph popular culture into a different entity entirely. Technology in the last decade has exploded even more so since the Internet was publically commercialized in 1996. The integration of the internet on smartphones, laptops, and tablets allow easy and mobile access; Viewers can watch shows and read about their favorite celebrities on popular gossip sites like TMZ anywhere there is a Wi-Fi connection available.
Rising popularity of Social Medias such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace connect fans with celebrities, upcoming shows, and aspiring stars. In the early nineties the internet was still developing so viewers relied on TV guides and the network promotions to get information about upcoming shows and televised events. Abiding by network scheduling and timelines was just how television was viewed in the nineties. This reason could possibly be why Reality TV was slow to catch on in the previous decade.
The invention of the coveted TiVo was introduced, allowing people to lead a busy life and do away with scheduling rules and time constrictions. Viewers were allowed the luxury of recording a show and watching it at a later more convenient time; this wonderful invention left the door wide open for Reality TV to sneak into viewers recorded libraries thus fueling the growing addiction. Networks began to realize that ratings were starting to drop on studio produced shows, with the convenience of recording, viewers no longer watched shows at their allotted times. As a result of lowered ratingsthe networks started losing Profits.
Networks like ABC started pushing out reality shows like The Bachelor andThe Bachelorette steering away from conventional sitcom blocks such as TGIF that showcased popular shows like Boy Meets World and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Reality shows are more cost-effective than sitcoms and ensemble dramas so the growing number of reality shows was simply a business decision by the network executives to grow profit margins. In 2004 the writer’s strike showed for two whole seasons that networks could keep reality shows on the air and not rely heavily on sitcoms and family dramas.
Series such as Heroes and Lost were directly affected by this strike and were canceled for a few seasons. Networks realized what a goldmine they had with Reality TV, no paid actors or writers; shows could be produced on a shoestring budget. However recently because of the rising popularity and growing network shares, bigger budgets have been allotted to Reality shows; whereas before shows like MTV’s Real World was a simple set up of a house filled with glorified nobodies filmed by cameras; contrasting with contemporary shows, like The Bachelor, that are more elaborate using roses, fancy mansions, expensive dinners, and trips around the world.
Genre specific and educational networks such as A&E, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel are also buying into this trend by steering away from actual educational and informative programming, transforming almost seventy-five percent of their daily programs into reality shows like Duck Dynasty, American Choppers, Toddlers and Tiaras, and Jerseylicious a show set in a Salon in Jersey full of catty women who love to start drama with one another.
Celebrity infatuation and the obsession with the weird and crazy, like the most recent Honey BooBoo craze, has now become a standard in television programming. The general theme while flipping through assorted channels is a constant stream of bizarre drama. High demands for this hankering have motivated other areas of entertainment to adopt this theme; Movies such as ED and The Truman Show have incorporated this into their plots.
Antecedently reality series that aired in the nineties were created to be social experiments; today reality shows are more concerned with sustaining a still growing addiction to trash TV. The flood of reality rubbish available has drastically brought down the quality of show content, seeming as though the trashier the shows get the higher the demand. However Survivor a popular show in the nineties is a great example of the social experiment epoch; sixteen unknown contestants isolated on an island competing to be the ”Sole Survivor” in order to win cash and other prizes.
Interestingly what was so provocative about this show wasn’t the end result or who won, it was the personal drama and alliances formed among the contestants that captured the viewer’s attention. This was the catalyst that evolved the social experiment into the guilty pleasure. Although the intellectually void melodramas may very well be slowly leading us into a society compared to Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, I throw my hands up in shame as I jump on the bandwagon for the celebrity drama addicted; I keep up with the Kardashians, I think I Can Dance.
I live in the Real World and dream of a Simple Life and after all is said and done I still believe that America’s Got Talent. In the nineties the expectation was that Reality TV was just a fad that would peak then fade out as quickly as it began. However the reality of our situation is, there just isn’t a cure for the regular dose of drama we have become accustomed to. Hopefully television programming in the next decade won’t have us running for The Hills.