Reality Tv: Ethics or Entertainment?

Trinity Goppy, Features Editor

Why do people enjoy watching the suffering of others?

This is the question that often comes to mind when I watch a reality television show.
Shows like Love and Hip Hop, Survivor or Teen Mom are extremely popular and watched by millions because of the consistent drama they exhibit. Although they are very entertaining, for me, they are just morally wrong.

Networks like VH1 or MTV work hard to cater to the audience’s craving for drama and conflict, so cast members are often dehumanized or demonized to create more tension among everyone on the show. This is shown consistently on Love & Hip Hop, a reality show on VH1 with multiple versions that are set in multiple cities, such as Hollywood or Atlanta, which focuses on the professional and personal relationships of people in the music industry. Usually on this particular show people fight over “cheating scandals” or rumors about one another. The situations that some of the cast members place themselves in are often unrealistic and seem to have been created by the show. For example, on the Hollywood version of the program, celebrity couple Lyrica and Floyd “A1” Bentley’s moms are always arguing and fist-fighting in defense of their children. Their moms, Lyrica Garrett and Pam Bentley, often take sides when their children have disagreements and this regularly results in them physically fighting. Absurd situations like this are common in reality TV shows and it is just uncalled for. Realistically, people do not get in fist fights with their son/daughter-in-law’s parents, especially if they are over 45 years old. It just feels more like fiction than reality.

While reality shows like Love & Hip Hop or Basketball Wives do not really serve a greater purpose, some reality programming is truly entertaining. Shows like Survivor or The Challenge, where contestants compete against each for a chance to win money, have entertainment merit. On Survivor, for example, contestants generally have two choices: form an alliance with other cast members or backstab people in order to win. While backstabbing to win a show seems a bit harsh, the concept of competitive reality TV shows is harmless. On The Challenge: War of the Worlds, “veterans”(people who have been on the show for more than one season and have excelled) and “rookies” (people who have recently come from other MTV shows like Ex on the Beach or Real World) battle each other regularly. Vets often team up against the rookies and this creates a more intense competitive environment that makes entertaining TV.

Let’s be clear, the difference between competitive reality shows and shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians, Love and Hip Hop, or Basketball Wives is that the contestant’s goal is to win by being smart and making alliances, unlike the latter who tries to see who can be the most violent or mean toward others. Although it may amuse viewers, the pressure of remaining interesting just to be on the show is wrong and sends a terrible message.

Reality shows really present an ethical issue by commodifying people’s lives for entertainment. These shows intrude on people’s personal lives and manipulate their behavior to incite gossip, create rumors, and instigate arguments and even physical fights. They are corrupt because they rely on the dramas of others. Reality TV sends a bad message that being on these shows can help one create an instant celebrity stardom when in reality it just tarnishes your image and gives viewers, who could be influential celebrities, a glimpse of who you are and a reason for not wanting to work with you.

The whole purpose of reality television is to show the “reality” of character’s lives, but in actuality it feels distorted to appeal to the audience. It seems that these shows are becoming more vulgar and offensive to find new ways to shock viewers, like showing racist bullying or physical fighting. Overall, reality Tv shows are morally wrong.