Reality television refers to a genre of television programming that features unscripted real life situations with a cast of individuals who are relatively unknown or those who are not professional actors. However, in some cases, professional actors and celebrities may also participate in some reality television shows. Unlike documentaries which focus on educating and informing the viewers, reality TV mainly focuses on issues such as personal conflict, the evolving drama, and entertainment (Davisson, 17). Another aspect of reality TV is that it puts the participants into certain environments and situations that they would not have been in their own lives. Reality TV shows could either be confessional or competition based. In confessional reality shows, the participants are free to express their thought on many different issues, including personal matters in the full glare of the cameras. On the other hand, the competition based reality TV shows often feature participants being eliminated in each of the episodes based on the views of the participating judges as well as voting from the members of the public watching the show (Davisson, 27). In most cases, reality TV always has a show host who comments on the participants or provides the narrations for the events happening.
Realty TV is almost as old as the television. The genres origins can be traced back to the early 1940s with Allen Funt's Candid Camera cited as the first ever reality-styles TV show. The show was unscripted and featured instances where unsuspecting people would be confronted with unusual or funny situations while being filmed with a hidden camera. This show is often seen as the main prototype for the development of contemporary reality TV Shows. Also, shows like Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour and Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts that aired in the 1940s as talent search TV shows and allowed viewers to vote for the best talents also ushered in a new era in reality TV. The 1950s saw other shows such as game shows that let people get involved in wacky competitions and various stunts without being scripted. Such shows include Beat the Clock and Truth or Consequences.
As more shows came to television, the audiences grew in love with reality TV. Today, reality TV is one of the most popular TV shows on any television channel. Some of the most popular reality TV shows include The Voice, Entertainment Weekly, and American Idol, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, among others. The reality TV genre has evolved into various subgenres including makeover programs, dating programs, talent contests, reality sitcoms, court programs, and celebrity variations of other programs.
These reality TV shows have resulted in many ordinary individual being transformed into celebrities through participating in the shows. The celebrity statuses they acquire often come with its own challenges and opportunities. In most cases, the reality TV stars often lack the strength and capacity to handle the fame that befalls that (Davisson, 63). Most of them are often consumed in the fame for their failure to deal with intense scrutiny they receive after participating in the shows. Some of them resort to indulging in drugs or end up committing suicide as a way of evading the publicity. As a result, many critics have questioned the social impact of reality TV shows. As scholars began interrogating the emergence and development of reality TVs, so did the criticism expand to include many other aspects of television programing. Some of the criticisms that reality TV faces are as explained below.
With so many reality TV shows on television, there are so many reality TV stars being created. This has created a scenario where the reality TV stars play a very cerebral role in the celebrity culture. The celebrity culture is full of top models, top chefs, teem mums, or real house wives who have all been stars of various reality shows. As a matter of fact, contemporary media seems to thrive on these reality shows that impart fame on the various participants in these reality shows (Davisson, 72). This kind of stardom varies from the usual stardom that traditional celebrities have. Traditionally, the celebrity status was reserved for a few individuals considered luck to achieve such greater heights of fame. Conversely, the realm of reality TYV stardom has no restrictions and is open to everybody who is willing to participate in one of the TV show formats. Due to the demand of reality TV stardom, there are various social structures coming up to aid the aspiring star to achieve their dreams. The New York Reality TV School is one such social structure. The school aims at teaching aspiring stars the different tricks and tips that they can use to succeed. The school offers a wide range of workshops and training clinics to would be reality star, teaching them various issues such as how to handle diverse personalities and creating a good pitch to producers in order to break into the reality TV scene.
Nevertheless, despite the prominence and the promise that reality TV holds, reality TV stars are viewed general a denigrated phenomenon. For instance, some of the stars are often criticized for their roles and their negative influence in the society. For example, Kim Kardashian, the star of Keeping up with the Kardashians has been criticized for her lack of craft as well as her lack of meaningful contribution to improving public life. In fact, some critics are of the view that reality TV shows such as Jersey Shore and Teen Mom only have a negative influence on the society as they threat the moral fabric of the community through praising bad behaviors and glamorizing unworthy subjects (Wilson, 412).
Besides, reality TV stars are often related to lower statuses within the celebrity culture because they are considered as fame-hungry as well as lacking special talents that are often associated with celebrity lifestyles (Wilson, 417). For example, bona fide stars such as Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears, and Beyonce often have entourages and would not want to spend lots of time engaging with the media directly as they would rather refer the media to their management for specific negotiations (Davisson, 57). On the other hand, reality TV stars would rather spend their minutes of fame engaging the media in order to get more coverage. Nevertheless, despite these kinds of criticism, the proliferation of celebrity stardom in the society is indicative of the fact celebrity hood has become the main linchpin of identity (Wilson, 422). Thus, the reality TV stars have created a shift in the cultural powers that are often associated with stardom. Today, stars or celebrities no longer exemplify the split between public and private lives, but rather, they are seen as prominent resources for cultivating our celebrity selves.
The media devotes significant amount of time to discuss celebrity gossip and provide details of events happening the lives of popular celebrities. As such, this has given reality TV stars more influence in popular culture than ever. Similarly, the increased interaction between fans and their celebrity stars empowers the fans to influence the celebrities and how they perceive themselves (Cashmore, 83).
The concept of stardom and the celebrity culture
Celebrities and the celebrity culture can be analysed from different perspectives. In addition to the numerous journalistic accounts of the celebrity culture, researchers and scholars have discussed the subject from the points of view of cultural criticism, cultural sociology, history, contemporary politics, and religion among others (Cashmore, 73). One common aspect in all these perspectives is the fact that celebrities are very influential people in the contemporary society. Celebrities or stars are seen as the active members in the industry determining trends and influencing behaviour of fans.
Ideologically, celebrity image or stardom has a completely different interpretation. Stars are seen to be representations of a certain image that is culturally manufactured (Bignell, 192). For instance, stars are considered to be multifaceted in terms of what they signify and what they are made of. Furthermore, stars are also represented politically and historically according to how they relate to critical issues such as conflicts or any other emerging issues (Cashmore, 105). Essentially, a star or celebrity image comprises of many different issues including screen roles they play and stage-managed appearances in public as well as the perceptions of the celebrity himself or herself and the real person.
Despite the celebrities being on a higher pedestal, the difference between fans and celebrities is becoming thinner each day as people get exposed to the private lifestyles of the celebrity figures. Furthermore, it is much easier today for one to become a celebrity than it was a few years ago. Participating in reality shows has emerged as one of the surest ways for one to become a star or celebrity (Bignell, 195). This has drawn a very thin line between celebrities and their fans as everybody feels like they can have a shot at greatness and have their 15 minutes of fame like the celebrities.
In order for one to become a celebrity or a star today, he or she has to fit in what the society defines as a celebrity. Most of the perceptions and interpretations of the concept of celebrity are derived from the media and culture. As such, the society imposes these meanings of celebrities and forces them to act in a defined way (Cashmore, 113). For instance, celebrities are expected to be rich, lively, perfect, and flawless. Any celebrity suspected of going against the norms is often victimized in the media and considered less of a celebrity. Therefore, many celebrities try very hard to fit into this image in order to relate with their fans and fit into what the society expects of them. In some instances, the celebrities have had to change their characters and personalities in order to be perfect celebrities and maintain the star image they acquire by becoming celebrities (Bignell, 198). For example, some stars have confessed to being shy while they appear to be courageous in front of their fans. Furthermore, some of them live very insecure lives with huge financial obligations in order to appear rich in the eyes of their fans and the media. Such an image can affect the real person negatively as they try to become celebrities.
Reality TV personalities have emerged as public figures that contemporary media creates as the ideal influencers of the society. They are portrayed as powerful individuals in their own right due to the levels of success they have achieved through their artistry, the challenges they have overcome, and the perfect lifestyles they lead. All these factors empower celebrities to be influential public figures. Furthermore, there is also a growing desire among the reality TV stars to remain relevant and influential, to attain recognition and fame, as well as gaining more wealth to remain famous (Bignell, 202). Essentially, the reality show stars today represent the perfect life that each person would like to have. One important aspect of understanding the influence of celebrities is by analysing the social relationships that exist between the celebrity and his or her public audience. Celebrities and their audience interact mainly through the media whenever the media covers a story about them or shows their images and videos to the public.
Bignell, Jonathan. An introduction to Television Studies. London: Routlege. 2008. Print.
Cashmore, E. Celebrity/culture. London: Routledge. 2006. Print.
Davisson, A. L. Lady Gaga and the remaking of celebrity culture. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland. 2013. Print.
Wilson, Juliet, A. Reality Television Celebrity: Star Consumption And Self-Pro0motion In Media Culture. John Wiley and Sons. 20...
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