Causes of Reality TV Popularity
There are several reasons that reality television has become popular today. The three that I will focus on are the concepts of money, instant fame, and the guilty pleasure phenomenon. The first catalyst for reality television being popular today is money. Today’s shows offer huge sums of money to people who do not necessarily possess the career skills that would make them a productive enough member of society to amass such wealth through honest work. Simplified, dumb people get lots of cash. Now, some shows do in fact have, at least at first, a pseudo-intellectual premise.
Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, for example, offered up to a million dollars to people answering a set of questions. The questions, however, differed from related shows in that they were usually trivia oriented. Also, the audience was involved, as well as calling a friend and so on, which added to the drama aspect. The lighting, music, and editing all were contrived to produce the maximum possible suspense surrounding rather innocuous pop culture subjects one might find in any game of Trivial Pursuit for Children.
The promise of money and the vicarious joy at someone winning lots of money, or more commonly spectacularly losing said money, is what draws millions of viewers. The second reason I believe reality television has become popular today is that of instant fame. Reality television takes ordinary people, sets them up in extraordinary situations on a world stage with other similarly commonplace individuals, and makes them the focus of a nation’s attention on, for example, an hour every Tuesday.
Obviously the majority of the population has no chance of ever being picked as a participant for the show itself, but again the concept of vicarious living kicks in and the audience is hooked. The members of the show are satisfactorily every-day individuals for fans to willfully suspend their disbelief. That’s what keeps 35,000 twenty year olds auditioning every year for a chance to participate in MTV’s The Real World, which offers no monetary reward save the endorsements from being an instant celebrity.
The third reason that reality television is popular today is what I like to call guilty pleasure syndrome. Sociology professor Mark Fishman of Brooklyn College, The City University of New York, has made a study of reality TV. “The Germans have a word for it, the appeal of some of these shows,” he says. “It’s called ‘schadenfreude. ‘ It means taking delight in the misfortunes of others. It’s a guilty pleasure. You feel you shouldn’t be watching.
It’s always been in good taste not to look at these things…. It’s a moral envelope that’s being pushed…. We seem to be in a new age of making public what [we used to think] shouldn’t be seen. ” In today’s society, with the massive technological revolution of home computing and the internet, and with the renewed interest in free speech and the protection of the arts, more and more people are finding premises entertaining that 30 years ago would have been considered obscene.