Reality Television – Have We Gone Too Far?Deanna Raphael

The desire to see real life play out before our eyes is nothing new. If Woody Allen’s Radio Days is historically correct, one of the most popular radio shows in the ’40s featured real life couples airing out their issues to a studio audience. We’ve always had a desire to see real life drama unfold in front of our eyes. Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”  He explained that fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities while the truth isn’t.

Reality Shows have been sprinkled throughout the landscape of television since the beginning.  Candid Camera, The Gong Show, Star Search, Cops, Survivor, Ricki Lake, The Real World to name some early ones. Rea­­lity was one of the flavors of programming we could choose to enjoy if we had a hankering for empty calories. Now we have entire networks dedicated to it. We have an insatiable desire to turn people who have no apparent talent into full-fledged, cover of People magazine, big money in their pockets, celebrities. We also like to take old stars and try to make them new. We take hardly stars and put them in a group formation. And we take legit stars and have them judge things. Our tastes will morph and trends will change but the genre of Reality is here to stay.  I’m looking inside when I ask the question… have we gone to far?  The answer that bubbles to the top, batting down Housewives and Kardashians on its way up, is…yes.

I have been a giant, devout, shameless fan of every “Housewives” (minus Miami aye, aye, aye) incarnation. But the last season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills left me feeling funny inside. The season featured the question, “Was Taylor Armstrong being physically abused by her husband Russell?” The other housewives seemed to have a hard time believing the validity of Taylor’s abuse claims. As an audience it’s our job to listen to the housewives rant and kibitz about each other and then side with our fav. The issue at hand wasn’t about a weird pair of LouisVuitton-Herman Munster boots—it was about physical abuse. On top of that the man being accused of it had committed suicide before the season aired. Other Housewives series have had heartbreak and mental illness dripped throughout but this was different. A man was dead.

That “funny” feeling went into over drive when the VH1 series Mob Wives came back for a second season.  Mob Wives features the wives, daughters and granddaughters of legit mobsters. The show has all the regular foolishness that makes up a housewives-type show: bickering, jealousy, miscommunication, unresolved feelings of inadequacy left over from childhood and so on. But these women also had have real-life criminals in their hearts and in their homes—criminals who have done bad things and who have hurt people.  Should we be putting money and fame into their pockets? Renee, one of the main Mob Wives, almost had a full mental breakdown on the show. This season, completely unbeknownst to her, her husband (ish) allegedly flipped himself over to the Feds, wore a wire and gathered intel that put Renee’s father back in jail.

This stuff is really, crazy, serious business.  My level of comfort watching it unfold is shockingly high. The doses of drama have gotten stronger and stronger and like any addict I find myself needing more.  We’ve been watching train wrecks play out since the Jerry Springer days. I remember thinking “At some point, someone’s gonna die on one of these shows.” And for all intents and purposes, they have. Of course not all reality television has gone too far. There are shows that you need unbelievable talent to get on and shows that change lives and shows about extreme couponing. I’m speaking almost exclusively to myself when I say that we should at least be mindful of how we vote with our viewing.

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  1. Remember a few years ago VH1 had ‘Megan Wants a Millionaire.’ after three episodes they stopped airing it because a contestant (who later it was revealed made it to the top three) murdered his girlfriend and then committed suicide. That really marked the end of the Vh1 dating show era. If Megan had chose him, that easily could have been her. Normal every day people don’t audition for these shows. It’s people who desire fame and are willing to have infamy. You just never know the kind of people you’re giving the world access to.
    The desire has definitely shifted. Where as reality shows used to be quirky and we watched them for the need to laugh at people eating cockroaches, or see girls cat fighting over some guy, it’s so different now. We watch because we’re fascinated by people’s lives spinning out of control. We watch to see if a Celebrity has taken heroine back up, or to see teen moms fist fighting their friends in front of their kids. I wish we could stop fueling it but I don’t see it happening. It’ll take something terrible and drastic, like the murder suicide that ended the dating shows, and this suicide. But TV programming will always find something new to fill that void and unfortunately at this point were programmed to get hooked to it.

    • Ugh. Yeah the personalities that are drawn to total exposure on the television are generally not stable. It’s a recipe for disaster.

  2. So true…I have never been a reality TV fan personally. You’ve articulated a lot of the reasons here better than I ever could.