Reality TV has taken over TV screens since the turn of the 21st century, and no one can deny its popularity with different demographics. Whether it's teens enjoying the record-breaking "Jersey Shore," or families gathering round to watch midweek '"American Idol," it's impossible to turn off from. However, there has been debate on its effects on its audience and whether it's doing more harm than good.
Negative Effects: Deceptive Reality
Reality TV is defined by MSN Encarta as "television programs that present real people in live, though often deliberately manufactured, situations and monitor their emotions and behaviour." Therefore, reality TV in its essence isn't "reality," and to portray it as that is deceptive to its audience, especially youngsters, toward whom much of the genre is targeted.
Negative Effects: Antifamily Values
MTV is a reality TV creator and ambassador, and its key demographic audience is preteens to early 20s. Since 1992 it has aired "The Real World," which consists season after season of a group of 20-somethings thrown together to create partying and fighting, passing it off as normal behaviour. Many critics have claimed this type of programming promotes "meanness, casual sex, alcohol abuse, and bad language," directly opposing common American family traditions and values.
Negative Effect: The Fame Game
The genre has also created a slew of reality stars, but it seems that many are celebrities with no apparent talent. "Keeping up with the Kardashians" has made famous a whole family who appear to be famous without reason except that they have a reality show. For those who don't take it seriously, it can provide entertainment for 30 minutes or so. But if taken as "reality," it then has a danger of harming its audience with unrealistic expectations.
Positive Effect: Success
Although the critics of reality TV are highly outspoken, there is also the counterargument of the benefits of the genre on its participants and audience. For the people who volunteer themselves for the likes of "American Idol" and "America's Next Top Model," winning the show is potentially a life-changing experience and a springboard to a career in the entertainment industry. The reward is there for the taking, but it's often not just the winners who can make a name for themselves. Tocarra Jones, a participant on season 3 of "America's Next Top Model," may not have won the show, but she is still a working plus-size model today signed to the largest modelling agency in the world.
Positive Effect: Inspirational
Even those reality shows that aren't competitions can still make a name for the stars. Lauren Conrad started her career on MTV's "Laguna Beach: The Real OC," and with subsequent exposure on "The Hills" has become a best-selling author, spokesperson and fashion designer--not bad for a normal California girl. Watching these successes has also inspired a generation of youngsters to aspire to make something of themselves. They want to better their lives and find inspiration from the success stories after the cameras have stopped rolling.
Positive Effect: New Satire
James Poniewozick makes the valid argument that the reality TV genre has made the TV schedules more exciting and given audiences some much needed satire. Producers who create the shows admit they don't take it too seriously.