The Reality of Television

MiMi Yeh

How well does reality television reflect reality? According to the people I’ve surveyed, nada. Melanie MacKay, a student at Northeastern, wonders, “Why are they wasting their time?” saying that it’s all acting anyhow. Sub par, at that. Everyone has a role to play: the minority, the rebel, the average guy, the nerd, the babe, etc. So what does this amalgam of personas amount to? Probably the continued proliferation of these stereotypes.

Webster’s dictionary defines tautology as “a repetition of the same meaning in different words; needless repetition of an idea in different words or phrases.” Essentially, that’s what all these relatively similar spin-offs are, from the public’s standpoint. “Big Brother” is to “The Real World” as “Survivor” is to “Road Rules.” The spats, alliances, and general pettiness are regurgitated in every episode of every show, strategically edited to draw the viewer in. We watch cynically, assuming it’s all fake but getting sucked in all the same, affecting a bored, jaded exterior as we salaciously consume the gossiping and backstabbing. Why?

If it’s an endless repeat of the mundane situations that haunt our daily reality, what is the point? Is it any more interesting watching someone else eat dinner and chatting about what they’d done that day than it is sitting around and talking about our own? Take “The Real World” and the “seven strangers picked to live together…” You know the rest. It’s the earliest example, the prototype of the reality television genre.

Seven people from the ages 18-25 are chosen to live together rent-free in a luxurious apartment and given a job that usually requires little or no effort. Short of murder, it takes a lot to get kicked out of a cushy situation such as that. The only requirement: you spill your innards and sacrifice your privacy for the viewing pleasure of the American public, who will then proceed to judge you mercilessly based upon the standards of the “norm.” You may then parlay that appearance into a brief career of cameos and talk shows wanting to know even more than you’ve already shown them, if you’re lucky enough to have managed to humiliate yourself in a significant way.

Fame and fortune and the appeal to human greed are powerful motivators, but what else keeps people lined up to be on the next reality show? Now that we’ve seen so many reality “stars” crash and burn, why would any others want to take part? They’re made quickly and forgotten easily. I’ll get a chance to pick the brains of Ace, Cameran, and Randy of the “Real World” Paris and San Diego casts this week, for the second half of this article that will appear in the February 5 edition of The Mass Media.

These cast members will be making an appearance in Boston on Saturday, February 7 at both the Back Bay Sprint and Harvard Square Sprint PCS stores at 12:30-2:00z and 3:00-4:30pm, respectively. They will sign autographs and there will be an “enter-to-win” contest every half hour. Winners and a guest will win an opportunity to go out with the cast members later on that evening. Sprint has a special offer: through the month of February, college students can get the Sanyo 8100 color phone with built in camera for only $64.00-it’s normally $230.00.