Friday, May 30, 2008

Reality Television or Government Take Over?

Have you ever wondered where the idea that men are good and women are bad came from? Why are women labeled as gold diggers, whores, or emotionally unstable? More importantly why are men almost always viewed as the dominant gender or provider? These are gender and race roles that have been created to maintain traditional western cultural ideals. Instead of blatantly saying men are superior and women are to be submissive the government has found a new median to maintain these stereotypes, and that is Reality Television. “Author’s Laurie Ouellette and James Hay argue that the government is doing this through utilizing the cultural power of television. They simultaneously converge TV images with magazines, books, websites, and mobile devices to create a guide of ethics, behaviors, aspirations, and routines for ordinary people {3}.” My goal is to prove that reality television is ultimately linked to the government and used as a source of socialization; as well as a tool to endorse traditional ideologies of gender or race roles.

Reality television can serve society for a number of purposes such as entertainment or education; but it is said that it could never be a contributing factor to a society’s socialization. I believe that this statement is not true. In fact I have several pieces of evidence that can prove such. “To start the definition of reality television is described as a genre of television that presents unscripted programming that deliberately depicts the representation of real people as well as actual events opposed to professional actors {1}.” “I find the idea that reality television is not used as a source of socialization highly unlikely especially because reality television has exploded from the mid 1990’s up until this point and has over more than 40 million viewers {3}.” Reality television is all around us today, and is now the new pervasive tool used by the government and other media medians to maintain traditional gender and race roles or inequalities.

Before reality television the ideals of gender roles, race roles and other traditional ideas were embedded in magazines, other types of television shows, and even formed in children’s toys and literature. These mechanisms were used as way to unobtrusively train Americans on how to act as women, as men, or how to act if you were part of a certain race. It is my belief that even though the government had all these underlying sources to contaminate the minds of Americans they didn’t want to stop there. They wanted to be apart of the wide range pervasive networks of television as well. I mean when you really think about it, reality television is the easiest way to inconspicuously slide in an abundant amount of ideologies through humor, sympathetic or identifiable stories. The “networks” tell these stories and it appears to be realistic; and that is where most viewers are sucked in. The show may mirror some type of physical or psychological issue in which they are dealing with, and almost automatically the story appears to be real because a particular viewer has gone through the same thing in their life span.

The viewer watching this story then watches how the “ordinary” person deals with this issue on reality television; and applies these “resolutions” to his or her life. Indefinitely there is never a resolution in media marketing because the government always wants you to feel as if you need them. So as viewers watch these images they are plagued with the ideology that there is something wrong with them, and if they do the things they see on TV such as plastic surgery, money management, or adapt to a certain lifestyle their lives will change dramatically. It is at moments like this that I can see exactly how reality television and other media medians are used as socialization sources. Both women and men viewers get the images of what a women should look like, act like, sound like, or be from reality television. “It is ideologies such as this that become identifiable institutions in which influence peoples moral, domestic arrangements, or their actions; its almost as if it becomes a “governing system” {3).”As a result of these blurry subtle images being leaked into television women are developing severe cases of psychological issues with their bodies, and their gender roles as a whole; and even though men aren’t scrutinized as much they are also being marketed in a particular way. No matter what the case if you’re a man or a woman in American society there is never going to be a time where an individual is deemed perfect; and there is always going to be a “way” for you to fix yourself or become better.

These ideals are constituted through constant repetition of exploitive character traits or expectations of particular individuals in society. For instance women in reality television are usually portrayed in two ways either sympathetically or as the hyper-sexualized female. Either way these stigmas are a result of the inability for these particular individuals to measure up to society’s standards. The sympathetic woman is shown as a person who may not be able to catch up to the new age fashion, or is not keen on how to keep a man, her children, or her hair for that matter. This woman is usually the ordinary housewife that audience members feel needs and deserves help. Usually, the way this woman can change is if she looses weight, gets her hair died, and puts on some type of sexy apparel. This idea is technically very contradictory because other media tells women that it is not ok to be too sexy. So changing a women that was at one point too bland, into some now hot sex kitten leaves the women in a confused state of mind because either way she isn’t good enough.

“Author Jennifer Ponzer describes the hyper-sexualized female as usually falling under the category of unintelligent, catty, bitchy, money grubbing, gold digging whores {4}.”“Which is another contradictory expectation because men are shown through montages in media as financial stabilizers, or the bread winners {4}.” In theory this is saying men are supposed to take care of women; these women are supposed to be sexy, and keep themselves thin and beautiful. Yet, in the same breath these types of women are viewed as being out for the male’s money and whores; yet if they aren’t sexy enough there still is a problem. “This is an example of how reality shows frame their narratives in ways that help both reflect and reinforce deeply ingrained societal biases about men, women, love, class, and race leaves the audience blind sited {4}.” Making them unable to differentiate if the images they are seeing are fictional or a type of realistic image because the images cross over into their every day lives. This leaving these constant changing images or messages a source to govern individuals every day lives.

Reality television shows are so pervasive in society because they encompass so many characteristics. Though they are not deemed as resourceful resources of socialization they act as such. They appear to be a starting place for people to find a concept in which they can model their lives around; as far as what to be, how to be, and what the societal norms are of a particular gender or race. An example would be the show Extreme Makeover. This show brings on contestants who go through a crucial 8 week make over process. The participants go through several plastic surgeries procedures. They are taught how to eat, work out, and keep their bodies and minds fit. At the end of the journey two contestants are completely made over; their bodies, clothes, ultimately their lives. After each person gets done with this process they are evaluated by doctors and other specialist and a winner is picked based on the how good the participants results were. On one particular session of Extreme Makeover where a woman who had no teeth, was going bald, and was divorced was brought on. “Interviews with her family were shot were they said that she doesn’t act like a “woman” should; she never gets dressed up, she never does her hair, and her daughter said “that’s probably the reason my dad left her”. Even the contestant admitted that she felt she was ugly, too big, and not pretties enough to be like the rest of the women in her town {5}.” This is a prime example of how reality shows give the portrayal that something must be wrong with the individual if they are not fitting the standards. “The resolution that is given is try harder, do better, plastic surgery, or some type of self improvement method. Beauty or style makeovers are offered as a dimension of self improvement almost always {3}. When shows like these are helping to set the standard of realistic life issues viewers also known as the consumers are sold various ideals on how to improve themselves.

“Overall through my analysis of reality television I have discovered how reality TV has been inserted as an informal tutorial guide for viewers in governing and policing themselves and others in society {3}. “All while not offering any type of explanation for these ideals, problem solving methods, and or advice given {3}.” I have undoubtfully realized that reality television is much more than entertainment; instead a cultural technological revolutionary key. This key can either unlock the resolutions to societies so called “issues”; or lock the general public in a world that will form into a people who are brainwashed by the idea that in order to be successful they need to achieve images portrayed in the media.



{3} Ouellette L., Hay, James. “Better Living Through Reality Television”. 2008 and

February, USA/ MA. pp 1-18 and 105-110.

{4} Pozner L. Jennifer. “The Unreal World”. Chapter II, pp. 96-99