20 February 2006

why a reality show?

Reality tv protagonists are average people, put into everyday situations (at least in the "purest" reality tv show: Big Brother), who try to avoid periodic publicly-voted evictions and hence win a cash prize.
Despite derision and critics, Big Brother series (and its later clones and variations) have been a commercial success in many countries (11 finished seasons in UK for example, with an average share of 21% over 6 years)
The audience is given a chance to participate in creating the shows they watch, so that they seem more accessible...anyone could be a potential celebrity with a little effort.

Studies have been made to discover why people watch reality show, and here is a rigorous psycho-motivational research by Steven Reiss and James Wiltz.
The results showed that status is the main motivational force that drives interest in reality television. People who are motivated by status have an above-average need to feel self-important. Reality television gratifies this psychological need in two ways:
1. viewers feel they are more important (have higher status) than the ordinary people portrayed on reality television shows: the idea that these are “real” people gives psychological significance to the viewers’perceptions of superiority.
2. the message of reality television, that millions of people are interested in watching real life experiences of ordinary people, implies that ordinary people are important: ordinary people can watch the shows, see people like themselves, and fantasize that they could gain celebrity status by being on television.

Reality shows are fascinating because they drive TV fiction closer to reality, but are they really unscripted? Are they real? And if yes, what is reality then?


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