Sunday, April 10, 2016

Supplemental Post #3: America's Obsession with "Ordinary People"

America has an obsession with ordinary people. Perhaps disenchanted with all too perfect celebrities and movie stars, the next big thing in pop culture is reality television. American viewers see people that they can more easily relate to, only these people they're seeing are on television! And they're getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per episode. Producers and editors can fashion the show to portray the people any way they want. In essence, reality television is anything but.

I wrote one of my other supplemental posts on the Real Housewives franchise, but in this post I'm going to focus on more "ordinary" people, like those seen in The Biggest Loser on NBC, Sister Wives on TLC, and Teen Mom on MTV. All of the people on these shows have something unique about them (they are extremely overweight, part of a polygamist family, or a pregnant teenager), which is the hook that draws people in, and yet they are, and these shows are, extremely marketable because of how relatable they appear to be to audiences. Viewers may see a Kirkland brand water bottle on one of the television personality's tables and think Wow, we're basically the same person. We both shop at Costco!

However, all reality television must be dramatic to keep viewers engaged and ratings high. There comes a paradox between wanting to portray these people as relatable and ordinary and needing to portray them as dramatic or weird for the purposes of entertainment. In the world of reality television, where is the ethical line in portraying a person as someone who he/she clearly is not in real life?

Reality television is as much a facade as it is entertainment. I find the entire concept of reality television very interesting, but I find myself to be an extremely cynical consumer. How can we really ensure that anything we watch is real? Is this person actually relatable, or are producers just trying to make him/her seem that way?

In the words of Drew Casper, reality can never be recreated, only retold. With every retelling of the story, more and more bias comes into play. It is so interesting how reality television is like a game of telephone: the story changes every time it comes into new hands.

Moving forward, I wonder how long reality television will last. American is fascinated with rich people, really poor people, and weird people, although a normal middle class family would probably not stay on the air for more than a season or two. We are obsessed with strange people that seem ordinary. There is a certain element of superficiality that exists in all reality television that narrative filmmaking seems to fill, which I think is ironic because people watch reality television to see something that is allegedly "real" and yet, the product that they view is only a fraction of the truth.

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