It would seem that the society that exists in the 21st century is one of a population with a thirst for realism in everything that relates to their function as human being. More so when it comes to television viewing habits. All of a sudden, television has become an extension of the computer games that we so realistically play on the television screen. We now have reality shows with everything from finding the best stand-up comic, to facing our biggest phobias in life. Indeed, reality shows are a way of life for the television viewer of this era. I guess Dino Ray-Ramos, writer of the article “Loving To Hate Reality TV” described the current generation of reality show television viewers when he said:
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Either way, every single reality show, no matter how dimwitted or intriguing, is a guilty pleasure that the majority of the American population can’t get enough of particularly 18- to 25-year-olds.
So, within this paper, I hope to explain what attracts us to reality television shows and why technological advancements all seem to be geared towards helping the arm chair adventurer enjoy the reality viewing pleasure.
Why Do We Enjoy Watching Reality Television Shows?
We watch reality television shows because the show concentration feeds on our basic need to be somebody. This is a desire which is being held back by our apprehensions and shyness about doing certain things. Another reason it is enjoyed by many is that through the technological advancement of television, show producers have come up with reality television, a way for each of us to “live” our dreams without actually needing to do anything. The players in the actual game become the pawns of the arm chair competitor. We also enjoy participating in this activity because any failure or accomplishment that is seen is never a personal failure or accomplishment but rather the failure or accomplishment of another who can be ridiculed or cheered remotely.
Technological Advancements Aided In the Spread of Reality Television
Technological advancements have aided in the spread of reality television through and has invaded every aspect of our lives and every fiber of our being. It has allowed people to disconnect from reality and enjoy various activities without ever having to actually participate in it. It has sanitized our viewpoint regarding what is dangerous and what isn’t and allowed us to create a virtual reality wherein we can choose and enjoy the activity without having to break a sweat. Notice that almost all reality shows; including “The Apprentice” and “Fear Factor”, call for some sort of remote participation from viewers in order to make the competition more exciting. For instance, where would all the budding Simon Cowell’s out there be without the text voting system implemented by American Idol in order to figure out who should get the boot? The judges? The contestants can safely ignore those 3 oafs in their seats. What matters is the person holding the telephone or cellular phone. That is what some people would probably call “providing vicarious excitement to a sedentary population.” People like the idea of being king maker’s or king breakers. That is what the touch tone technology and text voting procedures for these reality shows have unofficially dubbed the viewers to be. By giving us the power to make or break people, we become the biggest bullies on the planet, and we never had to get out of our seats or lift a finger to the person to accomplish that. More importantly, according to Amie Kirk in her paper “Rooting Against Leeann”:
American culture in general has become profoundly infatuated with television. The boob tube itself has become a powerful cultural icon. Integrating TV and reality makes us even more invested in its content, so that we not only live vicariously through these people, but we celebrate and grieve for them as well.
Technological availability served to further enhance the reality show experience for the average viewer by allowing them to be physically responsible for the success or failure of what I prefer to term as the viewer’s “television avatar”. That would be the competitor we root for to the point of spending excessive amounts on toll calls and text messaging just to assure “his” or “her” win. Ten years ago, people were not as reliant on television and reality shows for excitement in their lives. Times have definitely changed and so have the taste for adventure for the public.
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For example, if a student had a choice between actually reading “The Four Feathers” and watching the Heath Ledger movie version, they would choose the movie version. Why? Maybe because actually seeing the story unfold is much more exciting than having to imagine what the written word might actually be like. Never mind that the story is a study in history, who has time to read anything these days with all the reality shows permeating the airwaves? Watching Superman fly across a CGI enhanced screen in an IMAX cinema gives one the sort of adrenalin rush that can never be felt while reading a book. The sad part is that while technology allows us to experience various emotions and feelings, the imaginative side of our brain rots because we are no longer capable of fully imagining a written description of an action or word. Nowadays, everything has to be seen instead of read, for the fullest effect possible
Craving for Safe Excitement
By watching reality shows, one also manages to travel the world without having to leave the safety of their home. Just what the cash strapped couch potato requires these days. Escapism without the empty pocketbook. Through the magic of editing and the hard work of the show creators, a tour of Vietnam can be had in an hour through the competition provided by The Amazing Race. Therefore, one might say that reality television, with the help of technology, also helps widen the horizons of an otherwise sedentary population by providing views of the other side of the world.
Such is the condition that we now live in. It is this “safe craving” for excitement that Hollywood has used as the basis for the rise in the reality show genre. By acknowledging the general nature of the average American to be definitely competitive, we can see why reality shows have seen a rise in popularity. According to writer Erica Smothers-Franklin;
Americans are extremely competitive. We are individualistic and capitalistic. Reality shows can capitalize on all of these characteristics. For instance, reality competition shows like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, and even I Love Money allow the “average Joe” to have fifteen minutes of fame and win huge monetary rewards. We’ve all dreamed about being famous at some point or another and who couldn’t use a huge cash reward? These shows allow us to live vicariously through the competitors.
Technology and Its Relation to Instant Gratification
Reality television has given rise to the “quick sense of accomplishment” factor. This is a term that I personally coined in order to describe the high adrenalin rush that one gets while viewing a reality program where the contestant he is rooting for is in the lead of experiencing difficulties, and then receives an unexpected or expected ending at the end. There is an instant endorphines release that seems to last only a few minutes for most, all because technology has altered the way our brain perceives the information flashed before its analytical senses. Reality shows are all about instant gratification. Something that this generation seems to crave in droves and technology cannot feed fast enough.
Technology has therefore, limited our imaginative thought process to merely sitting back and watching a story unfold on-screen. There was a time during the early emergence of television when it was termed by certain experts as “the idiot box”. A term coined to describe the effects of television on the viewers. Diwaker Gupta explains the term to mean:
…its not because its like a “dumb terminal”, its because these days a lot of what comes on TV is either dumb, or is making us dumb, or we are already so dumb that we can’t help but watch it.
I bet the television show producers never had an idea as to how close to reality that description has now come. Since reality television spoon feeds the human desire for excitement, some people have lost interest in actually trying to accomplish or partake in any physical activities that will give him or her a real adrenalin rush. The kind of rush that helps to develop a person’s sense of accomplishment and development.
Reality Show Technology Reconnects a Disconnected World
Somehow, there seems to be a trend towards developing technology that will allow people to remain disconnected from real life but still allow them to participate in a “virtual” sense of the word. Technology such as text messaging, touch tone voting, high definition digital broadcasts, and other complex film and computer technology advancements have allowed people to discover an alternative to actually having to experience the activity that they immensely enjoy watching other people participate in. Somehow, the technology turned everyone into a “participating spectator”, that would be a person who desires to participate in the activity without having to worry about his personal safety at any given point of the game or sport. But what kind of person does all these new fangled technologies make us? Are we better people because of it? Do we learn anything from participating remotely in an activity? What exactly does one get out of such participation? My answer would be, “nothing but cowardice” since nothing was actually accomplished by the viewer.
Among all of these reality shows on television now, Fear Factor is the one show that totally allows the viewer to remotely participate in the activity of the person simply by watching it. The gruesome activities and dangerous stunts on the show is enough to strike the fear of God in any actual participant and, after having viewed a few episodes personally, I believe the fear of the viewer is just as strong. The objective of the show seems to be to challenge the dare-devil in an otherwise cowardly person. That kind of technically immersing technology is what makes this show work. The stunts are real, the people are real, the participants actually engage in the stunt. The fear is very real and translates well from television to the viewer. All of this is done through the innovative use of camera technology that gives the viewer a bird’s eye view of what the participant actually has to accomplish in order to complete a given task. Such reality breaking technology gives the viewer an almost virtual reality like view of the show.
Technological Advancements in Television Feed the Human Soul
Sedentary people actually have an adventurous soul. The only thing stopping them from actually participating in activities like those on television is their inborn fear of getting hurt. However, shows like Fear Factor, The Amazing Race, and Survivor, allow for active couch potato participation. Indeed, complex technology has come a long way in engaging the viewer into the games. Don’t get me wrong, I still get a kick out of shouting out the right answers to Jeopardy questions or solving the puzzle on Wheel of Fortune. However, there is no intellectual game show that actually kicks me out of my lazy boy chair as I am watching like the reality shows on television today.
When the reality show gets exciting, our body reacts in the same way as it would if we were actually participants in the activity. We have heightened senses, shortness of breath, excitement, and anxiousness even though we are not actually engaged in the race, stunt, task, or whatever is being asked of the show participants at any given point in time. Such would be a normal reaction to any activity that gives us one a sense of danger and excitement at the same time. Somehow, technology has managed to figure out a way for people to get their heart rate up in a new fangled form of exercise that I think doctors should seriously look into as a recommended activity. Complex technology has helped us become passive participants in reality shows and helped provide the vicarious and challenging entertainment our very couch potato inclined population needs these days.
Benefits of Technological Advancements in Television Reality Shows
Indeed, technology has allowed us to participate in the reality shows in one way or another. We get to play on-line or stand alone versions of the same games from the relative safety of our homes and allowed us to challenge ourselves to the limit by seeing how far we can go in the virtual versions of the show.
As we watch the reality shows from the comfort of our soft, cushy seats at home, we participate in the actual program by trying to instruct the player remotely and whining when a wrong move is made. The crispness of the image delivered unto our screens help us feel the pain and joy, accomplishment and failure of all the participants. Somehow, these digitized images touch our hearts and emotions, causing us to have empathic feelings for them. Such emotions are not easily felt for others in our real world so maybe there is something to be said about the technological advancements that are used in these shows. Maybe, in its own little way, it helps us learn how to become good people as well. Even if we remain sedentary in learning the process.
Hey, maybe we are not a sedentary population after all. After all, our fingers are constantly fiddling with the remote control as we watch the programs. We also find ourselves jumping out of our seats, or running around the house to the bathroom or kitchen for snacks during commercials.
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Television has long proven to be more than it was originally deemed to be. With the advent of reality television, we have taken the technology to a higher level that allows one to see life as never before. We see the worst and the best of each other; we live the luxury life and see how the other side lives with open eyes.
More importantly, reality television shows have allowed us to being analyzing ourselves as individuals. We begin to imagine we can actually survive in such given scenarios, how would we handle it? Do we actually have what it takes to survive the game?
“Are You Proud To Be A Fan Of Reality TV?” Helium. 2008. Web.
Gupta, Diwaker. (2007). The idiot box. Web.
Kirk, Amie. Rooting Against Leeann. 2004. Hardy Long Frank Prize. 2008. Web.
“Loving To Hate Reality TV”. Wiretap Magazine. 2006. Web.
“Reality Television: Why We Watch it”. Hotfact. 2007. Web.