The year was 1992 and MTV introduced new programming that would forever change not only how we viewed them—as a misnomer—but how we viewed television.
Our introduction to The Real World, with its tagline, “when people stop being polite… and start getting real…”was an omen of things to come.
Almost 20 years later and reality television has taken over and redefined the word reality—”the quality or state of being real”—to include an entry for reality TV that states, “television programming that features videos of actual occurrences (as in a police chase, stunt, or natural disaster),” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
But it has gone beyond videos of those ‘actual occurrences’ and beyond the concept of the Real World.
Now everyday people and celebrities alike welcome cameras into their homes to film the reality of their daily lives
We, the audience, are invited into their lives and believe that we are getting to know a personal side of them because we see them in their homes. But that isn’t real. Sure, it’s a version of their person, but it’s also a version of who they want you to know. Very few people have the ability not to play for the camera, so in most cases what we see is who they want us to believe they are; often the extreme best or worst version of themselves, whichever gets the ratings.
As the audience, what is our role in this phenomenon? Are we innately all voyeurs?
It would seem so.
If reality shows are a reflection of who we are as a society, then we are both exhibitionists and voyeurs who are willing to share the most intimate moments of our lives while we sit back and peek in, often in judgement, at those of others.
And there’s no shortage of shows that support these new ‘habits.’
Are you a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker?
There’s a show featuring your job. Bounty hunters; meter maids; pawn shops; bars; dress shops; hair salons—no job is too boring for TV as long as you either have a quirky personality and/or your job entails some dramatic moments: Operation Repo, need I say more?
Want to find love?
There’s no better way to find love than to move into a house—bus in some cases— with 25 other women or men to vie for someone’s attention.
It’s a tale as old as time…
And when you’ve found that love, there are a dozen bridal shows to show the world the ugliest moments (Bridalplasty/Bridezilla) leading up to the most beautiful day of your life.
Are you rich, entitled and a narcissist?
The Real Housewives franchise is nothing if not a celebration of all that is superficial. My Super Sweet 16 is the youthful version—no botox required—of that superficial celebration but with a luxury car in a red bow at the end.
Need to make a change in your life?
You can share the lowest points of your life with an audience of millions. A person’s weakest moment—drug addiction, mental/emotional disorders—is now entertainment and fodder for water cooler conversation.
Like competition for the sake of competition?
Whether you prefer to be dropped off in a jungle; locked in a house; or sent on a race around the world; your talent for scheming, betraying loyalties and the desire to win for winning’s sake, can earn you millions.
Are you a wanna-be, has-been or barely-was?
Along with the redefinition of the word reality, the term celebrity has also loosened its definition. Shows like Dancing with the Stars feature the who’s who of the “who’s that?” often giving new life to a long-lost career or two.
Are you famous for being famous, in your 20s, ready to party and have a total disregard for the phrase “my parents might see this”?
If you’re a celebutante, former young girlfriend of a seemingly pervy old man, or just willing to get naked and act out, then there’s a show for you.
With a show for everyone, it begs the question: What effects did the Real World have on our real world?
For years we called reality TV a fad that would go away eventually. But during all of this denial what constitutes ‘reality’ has broadened and opened up the door for more everyday people to go in search of their 15 minutes of fame.
The rise of the Kardashians…
And we only have ourselves to blame!
*Originally published at Being Latino Online Magazine as Redefining reality: The rise of the Snooki (she’s just not so relevant anymore, thank goodness)