Reality TV is addictive and a majority of television viewers have found themselves ten episodes deep into a marathon of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Bravo darlings such as Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives, or this season’s favorite show to hate, The Bachelor. It’s difficult to deny the temptation of watching as the lives of other people fall apart— the fights, the trysts, the backstabbing— it all has a sense of undeniable voyeurism. We are allowed to live vicariously through the characters whilst simultaneously reveling in their poor social etiquette and self destructive behaviours
The biggest issue with reality TV is that it often veers as far from reality as it can get. It stereotypes characters, forces them into boxes and then exploits and manipulates those portraits to create a narrative that is often highly disillusioned. And, because American society is so heavily influenced by media and what media communicates through different mediums, those narratives are becoming increasingly important in how they craft conversations about womanhood, female friendship and love.
Take The Bachelor, for example. Currently on its thirty-second season, the show has failed miserably in both portraying women as anything other than objects to be won or to be chosen from. Not to mention the severe lack of diversity and intersectionality. This season marks the first time a contestant was openly bisexual and Rachel Lindsay will be the brand’s first POC to star in the starring role of bachelor/bachelorette.
In addition, these shows are very particular in the physical appearances of women they select— most are thin, “classically” beautiful (aka white) and are boiled down to their ability to exist between the dichotomy of the bitch (seductive, sexual, controversial) or the virgin (soft, demure, innocent). This is a show that survives on predictability— Corinne Olympios is this season’s mean girl you love to hate— and its ability to utilize editing and lack of context to make the contestants look like vapid, lovesick floozies.
Though, we are all guilty of tuning in at 8pm every once in awhile it is dangerous for audiences to ignore how harmful these shows are. They place them across the arena from each other, forcing the women to become competitors rather than friends. Shows like The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise perpetuate the idea that women can only co-exist as enemies or frenemies who do nothing but insult, shame and rip each other to pieces. However, in reality, friendships between femme-identifying individuals are incredibly beneficial in that they create a dialogue of shared experience, sisterhood and support.
In an era that has seen a stark increase in a consumeristic demand to be entertained 24/7, reality TV thrives on its ability to provide easily palatable entertainment at a relatively low cost ($100,000 – $500,000 per episode as opposed to millions for scripted series). It’s the reason why shows like American Idol or KUWTK have between ten and fifteen seasons as opposed to the three or four season run granted to most network shows— they’re cheap, edit-able and marketable. But, when Kourtney is yelling at Khloe or two of the housewives are attempting character assassinations and throwing wine glasses at each other, it begs the question of what reality TV really costs.
Featured image here.