Reality TV: Deception of the Masses?
Reality television is a huge part of television-viewing culture today. Having roots in American television, the genre of reality TV only soared in the early 2000s following the large success of shows such as Big Brother and Survivor. In 2007-2008, reality TV programming in America captured 77 percent of the total audience watching the top 10 programmes alone (nielsonwire, 2011). As the name implies, it is a genre of television program that focuses on portraying reality. This ‘reality’ is purported by television producers to involve unscripted actions by ‘real’ ordinary people in ‘real’ situations. (Beck, Hellmueller & Aeschbacher, 2012) However, there exists discourse by media critics claiming that the concept of reality TV, as promoted by TV producers, is far from the truth. In short, the claims are that there is no reality in reality TV; or as Potts puts it, it is “nothing short of a conceptual and practical lie”. In fact, situations shown on reality TV programmes are thought to be non-common and rigged(Potts, 2007), while some claimed that there is an interaction of fiction and reality in the shows.(Beck, Hellmueller & Aeschbacher, 2012) These pose a threat to the credibility of reality TV as their claims of being real, honest and unscripted are being challenged. However given that reality TV is slowly dominating primetime broadcast, it seems that the issue poses no threat to its mass-appeal and popularity.
The purpose of this essay is to synthesize and add on to existing research about the deception involved in reality TV. This is done by looking at several popular shows with a focus on the case of The Bachelor and its female spinoff The Bachelorette. In particular, this paper explores the way reality TV creates a false reality to the masses and its motives behind the deception. The theoretical concept of ‘culture industry’ as developed by Theodor Adorno and members of the Frankfurt school will be used as an analytical tool in this paper. Using the ‘culture industry’ concept framework, we will find out how characteristics of the reality TV manifest that of the culture industry. According to the thesis of ‘culture industry’, films and television industries are operating for mass consumption and are driven by profit under a capitalistic economy. Thus the central argument here is that reality TV is 1) deceiving the mass audience by presenting a false reality through manipulating their consciousness, 2) reason being the producers are driven by profit-making typical of a culture industry.
A brief look into the Culture Industry Thesis:
In ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’ under ‘Enlightenment as Mass Deception’, Adorno and Horkeimer believed that contemporary mass culture manipulates consciousness and likened popular culture to a factory mass-producing commodified cultural goods that have no artistic values(Broadbent, 2010). Cultural industries are the result of a capitalist mode of production. Characterised by unsophistication, standardization, and pseudo-individualism, cultural products such as films and music keep people passively satisfied and fetishized with the commodity by creating false needs in them.
The Bachelor Show franchise:
The Bachelor and Bachelorette epitomize the reality TV’s subgenre of a dating show. The Bachelor was debuted in 2002 under ABC channel and it deals directly with relationships between men and women. (Hall, 2005) It features one bachelor searching for his ideal partner out of 25 women. During the process, he gets to have spectacular dates with the women, sometimes in a group, and eliminate one participant with each passing episode during a dramatic rose ceremony. This is repeated until the bachelor narrowed his search to one, usually resulting in a marriage proposal.
The need for standardization:
Adorno stressed that repetition is the essential characteristic of the culture industry. Making reference to pop music, he...
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