Why Are We So Obsessed with Reality TV?

Photo courtesy of The Ionian.

Photo courtesy of The Ionian.

Janine Jones, Copy Editor

Whether you’re a reality television fiend or someone who has sworn off the entire TV genre, chances are that you’ve watched at least one episode or heard people in your life discussing it. From The Real Housewives franchise to Dancing With the Stars to The Bachelor, reality shows pique some sort of interest for viewers at home. Even with a large variety, people tend to group them all together and have a relatively negative association to reality TV.

It’s true that the genre has a bad reputation, but there’s something about it that keeps the people coming back. Studies show that Americans spend one-third of their free time watching TV shows and that 67 percent of those shows are reality TV. So, what is so great about these shows?

One simple answer is that we love the drama and entertainment. Though it is not the carefully crafted, scripted and directed drama that you’d find in traditional television shows, people still get the same amount of entertainment from it. Reality show have their own kinds of plot twists and cliffhangers that leave their audiences stunned. From fistfights to table flips to who didn’t receive a rose, one can’t help but be interested in what comes next and glad that their lives aren’t that chaotic.

Up until now, psychology scholars have been divided on why people like reality television so much. Some say that the shows’ appeal is an extension of fictional drama, and prompts positive feelings like empathy and compassion. While others claim that viewers have a voyeuristic desire to intrude on other people’s lives and see them at their most embarrassing moments.

A recent study done by Michal Hershman Shitrit and Jonathan Cohan from the University of Haifa in Israel tested the different perspectives. They found that the more participants said they enjoyed shows, the more likely they were to say they would or have a loved one who would like to participate in those reality shows.

Overall interest in participating was not very high, but surprisingly, approval of family members’ participation in reality shows was higher than the desire for self-participation. Shitrit and Cohan concluded that “humiliation is not the central motivation, which must rather be empathy.”

So in short, another reason people love reality television is that audiences feel for the people on these reality shows. Whether viewers feel like in another life they could be friends or they feel like a person could use a punch in the face – they are feelings and they are valid.

In this genre of television, there are some shows that exist and people don’t know why, yet millions of people still watch. In this case, one can be lead to believe that you can get a TV show, become famous, and have no real talents. Which is the cause for another reason for people to love reality TV, maybe it could happen to you.

“The message of reality television is that ordinary people can become so important that millions will watch them. And the secret thrill of many of those viewers is the thought that perhaps next time, the new celebrities might be them,” said Steven Reiss of Psychology Today.

What reality TV shows are you currently obsessed with, and why?