The Irony of Reality TV Shows

Reality tv. It’s one of society’s most common guilty pleasures, and yet it is still shrouded in veils upon veils of negative stigma. Perhaps this is because it is the one genre of tv that invites viewers to judge real people, as opposed to characters that are written and performed. Or perhaps, it is because the lives that are often documented through the lens of “reality tv” are often wildly out of touch with those being led by viewers. I mean – it goes without saying that most people don’t find themselves in situations where they must give out single roses to their suitors. With that being said, though, I think there lies a certain understanding between producers and viewers that the content within reality shows is so rarely derived wholly and naturally from reality itself and that- by nature- reality tv is a sort of oxymoron. It is nothing but irony, as it claims to be completely real in that it captures the unscripted reactions of real people but then proceeds to put these- singular- people into scenarios that are far from realistic. 

It would be redundant to continue lamenting over the contradictory nature of real people in unrealistic scenarios, but I don’t think that is the only note of irony within this tv genre. Tv programs, among other things, are meant to be a form of escapism for their viewers, but yet, one of the most popular tv genres revolves around the idea that it is entirely within our reality, regardless of how far-reaching it may seem. It is within our reality but also… not really. It’s not really our reality; it’s someone else’s. I know it’s certainly not my reality; I, for one, wouldn’t be caught dead on most reality tv shows. If not for the sheer invasive quality of the cinematography style, then for the nature of the editing style, which shifts the subjects’ narratives and adds a certain drama to everything from the mundane to the bizarre. However, that’s not to say that I don’t watch reality tv sometimes. After all, it is entertaining, and I have a soft spot for a certain British Baking Show. These traits, though somewhat offensive to the subjects, are entertaining for audiences, hence their success and popularity. This brings me to my next point.

What is interesting to me about reality tv shows, with their close-ups of people’s reactions and formulaic editing techniques (which often rearrange shots to make them seem more dramatic than they maybe are in real life), is that while they skew our sense of reality, they also in a way, expose a different reality. It may not be everybody’s favorite version of reality, but it is a  reality nonetheless. It is reality as seen from another’s perspective, from the outsider’s point of view, something which we, as the viewers, are. We view these real events, perhaps not as they actually happen, but as they are perceived by the camera crew and the close eye of the editing team.

While reality tv may be incredibly contradictory by nature, I think that it only further adds to its allure. It portrays real people as caricatures in unusual settings and scenarios with unique problems to overcome. Reality tv sells us a version of reality, which in itself is rather ironic.


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