In 2014, Kim Kardashian was the second-most popular Google Search in the “People” category (Source: Google Trends). In 2015, Caitlyn Jenner was the ninth most popular Google Search globally. It is no secret that reality television has created a culture of highly sought-out celebrities, pop culture references, and trends that have surpassed the initial television program itself. What does this say about our interests as a population of media consumers? Is it safe to say that we have become obsessed with the idea of “reality television” as a realistic and attainable lifestyle?
If it is any consolation, it is not solely the United States that eats up reality television like a delicacy. Reality television is also quite popular in the UK, where a survey revealed that at least 70% of television viewers watch reality TV on an occasional or frequent basis (Source: Job Monkey). In America, reality TV is most popular among younger crowds, especially those between the age group of 18 to 29 year olds, of which 68% enjoy watching reality TV (Source: Oregon State). All of these numbers indicate that reality television is clearly a success. But what about reality TV makes it so entertaining?
In short, many people like the concept because it implies that anyone can relate to it. Additionally, it allows people to imagine that they could someday have their own TV show as well, instilling lofty dreams into the minds of hopefuls. The media has skewed the word “reality” into something that is no longer authentic. The thing that allows reality television to thrive, then, is that the majority of television viewers have actually accepted this realization. People who are consciously aware of what the media is feeding them no longer care that the shows are often staged and edited to be as dramatic as possible, but actually enjoy the formula of it. There is an element of predictability in reality television that makes it comfortable, yet just exciting and suspenseful enough to draw in audiences for the next episode.
How has reality TV impacted the world culturally? The greatest example of this is the immense success of the Kardashians. While many people find distaste in glorifying the family for their rise to celebrity status, it is impossible to ignore the presence that they have in the media. They have become fashion icons, entrepreneurs, social media idols, trendsetters, and the topic of thousands of news articles. While many other reality TV stars remain relevant after their airtime has come and gone, none have surpassed the level of the Kardashians. It would be difficult to find someone who hasn’t heard of at least one member of the famous family. The Kardashians’ rise to fame birthed a new level of “reality”: the kind of reality that can never really be achieved by the average person.
In the past, it may have been hard to imagine a reality TV star as an elite, but today, it is a norm. How has this affected the public’s perception of celebrities? Everyone aspires to be someone else. No one can settle for being “average” or “normal.” People are embracing crazy lifestyles in hopes of being deemed worthy of a television slot. The popularity of tiny houses, dramatic weight losses, and competition shows have presented the idea that the only interesting reality is that which draws the most attention.
Overall, reality television has created not only a new culture throughout the world, but it has also affected the way that people view each other in term of fame and social mobility. As harmless as an enjoyment of reality TV may be, there are more serious effects of these popular shows that people fail to realize have greatly shaped societies all over the world.