The “lifestyles of the rich and famous” are often portrayed through reality television, docu-dramas (soap-opera type reality shows). Oftentimes women with lavish material items and excessive luxuries, impress the younger female audience. A growing number of youth are influenced to follow suit, down their path to stardom, fame, and fortune because of what they view in these shows. Reality television viewing has transformed into an addiction and has been linked, especially to young girls. Is it the responsibility of producers and concept creators to help these young ladies recover? Where is society’s hand in this rescue effort? Research conducted with a reality television show producer, some avid viewers, and the social media community yield interesting answers to this subject. Opposing views from either side of the coin speculate the cause to support their viewpoint, whether reality television programs are causing negative social behaviors or vice versa. The question ultimately answered here, “Is society doing its part to help young women recover from the negative effects of reality television?”
Following many years of scrutiny, in a March 2010 article, Elle Magazine established that celebrities are not role models. They are just people living their lives, but doing so in the spot light and within a much higher tax bracket. By the growing number of incidents involving and negative behaviors exhibited by celebrities, society has seemingly issued a universal, silent consensus to this thought. So, how is it that so many are still relying on them to take on that role?
Society is constantly consuming these reality television docu-dramas, and then projecting fault onto the producers, actors, and creators, insisting they uphold a certain standard because young women are now being heavily influenced? A large segment in society, at some point or another, has tuned in, had their fill of these shows and rendered no reaction. As a result, they gained extreme popularity, replaced quality programming, and as evidence of the effects surfaced, the blame game began.
Girls are especially drawn to the glitz, glamor and relate to certain circumstances in reality shows. They tune in further, to dream, imitate styles and seek answers to their own personal problems. Unfortunately, they get a skewed vision of how life really is and exposed themselves to behaviors that are far too dangerous to apply to their own lives. While under the influence of reality television, they essentially are not equipped to decipher “reality” for themselves.
A report released in 2011 by the Girl Scout Research Institute, studied more than 1,100 girls who were surveyed and 100% agreed that reality shows encourage bad behavior, and that they “often pit girls against each other to make the shows more exciting (86 percent), make people think that fighting is a normal part of a romantic relationship (73 percent), and make people think it’s okay to treat others badly (70 percent).”
The study also indicated that girls expect higher levels of drama, aggression, and bullying. “Gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls” (78 percent vs. 54 percent); “It’s in girls’ nature to be catty and competitive with one another (68 percent vs. 50 percent); and it’s hard for me to trust other girls (63 percent vs. 50 percent).”
Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out, says girls mimic what they see through reality television programs, “What girls observe in the media can become the template for how they approach real-world conflicts. This is a real concern, since few girls learn alternatives to what they are watching.” Simmons further emphasizes that, “Girls learn that it’s cool to be mean… mean girls get lots of attention.”
In a Women’s Health feature article, Is Reality TV Hurting Us, Kate Parham for USA Today states “Seemingly harmless entertainment has surprising effects.” She reported that the following occurs as a result of watching reality television:
- Skews Our Perception Of Reality
- Makes Us Self- Important “Celebrities”
- Reinforces Stereotypes
- Makes Us More Aggressive
- Distort Our Moral Compass
In a recent interview with an avid viewer, Jasmine McLaughlin, 20 year-old, psychology student at Bowie State University, professes that she and her girlfriends are addicted to reality shows. She confesses that they idolize the women to the point where they view them as role models.
In a data report by the Nielson Company, women make up the largest demographic of television viewers. Consequently, broadcast networks target their programming to female viewers, who make up between 65 and 75 percent of the audience for entertainment programming.
As shown in the Nelson report, the affinity for watching reality television programs has permeated into the mature female population. There are some parents who have joined the ranks for being part of this reality television-viewing craze. In the following interview, one reality show viewer expresses her routine for watching the shows, but also emphasizes she does not allow her young girls to be influenced by the content.
Jennifer Velez, wife and mother of two young girls, says that reality television is her secret pleasure. She monitors her 5-year-old daughter, ensuring she does not get a glimpse of the exchange between the women on her Bravo favorites. She says that it is difficult because her daughter is allured by the fancy, displays of glamor.
Jennifer shares, “I watch Reality Shows. They are like a break from my reality. I especially love Bethany Frankel. Her life is like a fairy tale… I want to see where it ends for her.” She further emphasizes, “Although I watch, I would not allow my girls to do so. I don’t want them to think that is how women treat each other.”
In an online poll conducted among young women via social media outlets, the results were moderate. Over (55%) claimed they didn’t watch reality television, (11%) watched out of curiosity, equivalent to those who did so for entertainment (11%) and because they were bored. Another (11%) actually enjoyed the topic of discussion. The poll deduced that approximately 45% of 100% watch reality television, substantiating the popularity and influence factor.
Rebecca Mattingly, former Florida Film & Entertainment Commissioner, asserts that reality television programs are mirroring what is already inherent in society. In an interview she shares, “These self-produced concepts often find their audiences among like-minded social communities.” She does not subscribe that reality television programs are the source of a person’s bad behavior, “For the reality show, …it is presented as a mirror reflection of where we are as a society. Unfortunately, the reflection is not always a pretty one.”
Echoing Mattingly’s sentiments, reality television co-producer Troy DeVolld, believes his show, The Basketball Wives, is not the source of bad behaviors but only a mirror reflection of existing social attitudes. He also shares that the birthing of reality television came out of a need for the industry to create a more lucrative business model in television programming. His thoughts are that these shows are not harmful for the viewing audience and at best are allowing creativity to be at play. In the video below with DeVolld, he emphasizes the responsibility of parent’s involvement with their children’s viewing habit and also shares that reality stars’ behaviors are, “Essentially a reflection of society.”
There is a definite draw for watching reality television and Bill Guttentag, Filmmaker, Writer and Director, explains in the following video Why are Reality Television Shows So Popular?
Why are Reality TV Shows So Popular? YouTube Uploaded by ForaTv on March 19, 2008
On the other side of the argument are those who claim these shows damage the psyche, distort ”reality” for its viewers, and erodes societal values. According to Tim Winter, President of Parent’s Television Council he disagrees with DeVolld’s assessment, “Compared to men, women were far more denigrating to themselves and other females… teen-targeted reality television is doing little more than ‘empowering’ young girls to be overly negative.”
Other opponents to reality television demand that it promotes the behaviors that we view. In reaction to foreseen moral implications of reality television, critics, psychological professionals and researchers are chiming in to prevent irrevocable cultural damage and to change the course in which young women are headed.
Media critics believe the affects have become tremendous as it has become one of the most popular forms of programming and that this success and popularity comes with a heavy price and are challenging producers. Journalist, writer, Jennifer Pozner, wants industry executives to get real with viewers.
With her book, the author supports the thought that reality television is not “real” and negatively affects its viewers. According to Pozner, there are problems that are surfacing from watching reality programs: “I kept noticing more and more deeply problematic, regressive ideologies packaged on reality TV as if they were a reflection of just who we happen to be as Americans today.”
What response should society render when helping young reality television show viewers recover from their addiction? Should the parents take a more active role in curtailing their children’s television viewing time? Blame is being cast on both sides of the argument that it is the responsibility of caretakers and show creators alike to help in the recovery effort. Research has shown that a definite compulsive behavior is becoming more apparent in our young women and links the source to the reality television addiction.
Xion Robin, Blogger, opposes the creation and viewing of and expressed her disbelief in the obsession with reality television, in a winter interview. She insists the society has to take extreme measures to reverse the effects. “I think it says a lot about who we are as a society and the way that we glorify pseudo-celebrities. She added that industry may not be responsible, but society itself. “I don’t think the industry feels like they have social responsibility, but we have to grow ourselves. It is our children…, this is our friends…, this is our society as a whole that this is effecting.”
Many experts examine the psychological impact that reality television shows have on young girls. In the book, written by Psychologists, Erika Holiday and Joan Rosenberg, the issues that girls face in their social developmental stages are addressed. “The book was written for girls and woman with a strong focus on why females tend to hurt each other.” It explains how meanness can act as a coping strategy for women and explains several influences that foster an environment where women are hostile toward one another. There is an entire chapter dedicated to “how the media portrays and trivializes women” and the influence television has on girls. This and many other works are indicative of the movement to educate and shape young women to avoid contributing to the rise in abusive behavior in society.
In all of the social media exploration, independent research studies, industry expert and viewing audience interviews done concerning reality television’s affect on our society’s young ladies, it all states to there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Whether one is pro or con reality television, there is a definite impact visible upon the young women who watch these types of programs. Regardless of the motivations for creating these shows and watching, the bottom line is that there are adversely effecting young women, whom are amid their social development, are defenseless against the power of its influence.
So, when addressing the question “Is society doing its part to help young women recover from the effects of reality television, shifting the blame does not solve the problem. More accountability from all in society, whether one is the producer, educator, parent, or the reality television star needs to occur in order to help fight the impact. What influences our younger generation today speaks to the kind of society we have in the future. Therefore, to counter the current adverse impact reality television has, society as a whole, must work in concert to aid in the recovery effort for those young girls adversely effected by this programming and any medium that endorses its content, in spite of its reflection of “real” life.