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What Time says about Reality TV

March 18, 2010

A few days ago, I published the link for the Time magazine article that was written in February. It was published to herald the 10th anniversary of reality television hitting the mainstream, with the advent of Survivor. 

The article (for those who don’t know), described the evolution of reality TV, but also criticized it, and lauded it when appropriate. Many of the arguments the writer makes are not new within the genre: fame for fames sake and the breakdown of privacy. But the positives are something I want to focus on. After all “the best reality shows can be much more engrossing, diverse and and complex than your average TV cop show”. This article embraces the American qualities that reality shows present. But this is because what is “true of countries is true of television”. Jwoww of Jersey Shore fame is likened to Jay Gatsby: able to reinvent yourself no matter where you came from. After all, isn’t this the American way.

This article is one that actually reflects partially how I think the genre really is, but still falls short. Despite lauding the slice of life that reality tv brings to us, shown in Wife Swap, Undercover Boss, 19 Kids and Counting and lauding the programming of MTV (which naturally won me over immediately), the article still ends on a negative note. That we are prone to promoting people who don’t deserve it. This is probably true (and we shall save my thoughts on E!’s new venture Pretty Wild for another time), but it doesn’t eliminate the good, the “democratic quality, the aspirational quality”. The good always has to be sold with the bad, for even when we admit reality TV may just be ok, it has to be with a disclaimer– but it most likely isn’t.

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