Reality TV usually gets consumed by people looking to, ironically, tune out and veg out. It’s about watching messy drama unfold and be glad that you get to watch it happen, rather than being the one it happens to.
And the ironic thing about reality TV is that it gets deemed as fake.
Fake because it’s obvious the producers forced an incident to happen. Fake because the participants are only on there to gain followers on social media and to start their influencing career. Fake because editing causes us not to get to watch the whole story unfold.
However, I’d argue that consequences are real for the participants and the themes (yes, reality TV has themes) are taken from society itself.
A prime example is The Bachelor franchise.
In the course of a Bachelor/Bachelorette season, there is aways someone edited to be the “villain”. Within the show, the “villain” suffers the consequence of being sent home, however they also suffer the backlash from viewers on social media.
But you don’t even have to get the villain edit to be affected by the show on social media by fans of the show. You just have to be person of color. And if you’re a person of color who also gets a villain edit, well then the consequences are even worse.
Furthermore, The Bachelor explores themes we actually experience in society. Of course, the show shows us a journey to find love, so it covers themes about marriage and relationships. It explores the social constructs of what makes a “good” wife and what a heterosexual relationship should look like. There are ideas about what makes someone “ready” or “qualified” for marriage
But we can also learn about how the patriarchy and racism are harmful in society from The Bachelor. We watch how women get pitted against one another for the affections of one man. We see how people of color continue to get ignored and/or stereotyped.
The Bachelor franchise, or any reality show, doesn’t have the ability to solve all of society’s problems, but it does have a responsibility to make an effort to spread inclusive and progressive messages. Additionally, viewers tend to take the idea of reality TV being “fake” too far and treat participants like they’re not real people with real feelings.
And sure, what we see go down on these episodes of reality can be heavily produced. But these ideas are not just made up by the TV gods or syphoned from the void. TV is a reflection of society and society likes to watch TV and reenact what it sees. It’s been proven that it directly affects those who go on the show. On a broader scope, it will, and does affect the rest of us.
So how real is reality TV? It’s pretty real, in my opinion.