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Memorandum

To:

Television Viewers

From:

Justin Dizon

Date:

December 12, 2012

Subject:

The Effects of Reality Television on Society

Enclosed is the report “The Effects of Reality Television on Society. ” This report

analyzes the different effects reality television has on society, both positive and

negative.

The information gathered derives from a survey questionnaire given to common

everyday television viewers of various age groups , race, profession, and of both

genders. It wil l give a better understanding of how the opinions of reality TV by

typical television watchers are influenced by what they see on the screen. Any

trends or patterns are also indicated.

It is my aspiration that the following information provided to all television viewers

alike would be both informative and enlightening.

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THE EFFECTS OF REALITY TELEVISION ON SOCIETY

Prepared by Justin Dizon

Student at Kean University

Report Distributed December 12, 2012

Prepared for

Professor Amy Dixon

English 3090

Kean University

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Abstract

Reality television has been a growing fad this past decade and continues to

grow each day. Singing competitions, endurance challenges, grueling obstacle

courses- these are a few examples of themes reality TV shows might have, all of

which ultimately lead to a cash prize or big award. Television ratings show that

reality television continues to lead the pack among all shows clearly showing the

enjoyment American viewers have on reality TV. But as many might not know,

reality TV influences society and how we view each other. Stereotypes, clichés, and

prejudice are often depicted on these reality shows, which can ultimately brainwash

its viewers. With this topic, I have the opportunity to analyze the different ways;

both positive and negative, reality TV h as influenced society as well as possible

changes it can take for the future. This topic interests me because I am a keen

viewer of many reality television shows and I can compare and contrast the

different aspects of various shows impact on society.

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Table Of Contents

Abstract …………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 3

List of Figures……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 5

I. Introduction………………………………………………………………………………………………… 6

A. Reality Television History (Background)…………………………………………… 6

B. Different Reality Television Shows………………………………………………………. 7

C. Problem……………………………………………………………………………………………… 9

D. Proposed Solution……………………………………………………………………………… 10

E . Questions Researched…………………………………………………………………………11

F. Limitations of Research……………………………………………………………………….12

II. Methodology and Research……………………………………………………………………………13

A. Primary Research – Questionnaire ………………………………………………………13

B. Secondary Research Outside Data Collection …………………………………… 14

III. Results and Discussion …………………………………………………………………………….… 15

A. Results of Questionnaire……………………………………………………………………. 15

B. Results of Secondary Research…………………………………………………………… 19

IV. Conclusion and Recommendations……………………………………………………………… 20

A. Review and Recap ……………………………………………………………………………… 20

B. Solution and Recommendations…………………………………………………………. 21

C. Next Steps………………………………………………………………………………………… 22

References…………………………………………………………………………………………………………23

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List of Figures

Figure 1: Info graphic on Reality TV By The Numbers ………………………………………… 8

Figure 2: Survey Results- Description of Cast (The Jersey Shore) ……………………… 18

Figure 3 : Survey Results- Description of Cast (The Real Housewives)…………………. 18

Figure 4: Survey Results- Description of Cast (Teen Mom)………………………………… 18

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I. Introduction

A. Reality Television History (Background)

“Reality” is defined by the dictionary as “the world or the state of things as

they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.” The world

we are living in would be described as our own reality but thanks to television, we

now have the opportunity to view the reality of others. “Reality TV is essentially

television program [s] in which there are no writers, actors, or scripts. Instead, the

shows focus on “real” events or situations” ( Perritano, 2011). This past decade

reality television has grown to cement itself into our everyday culture. Watching

the lives of others unfold right before our eyes is something we take pleasure in

whether it may be promoting the successes or failures of people.

Television based on reality has been in existence for more than 70 years but

the first reality television show to air was “An American Family” on PBS in 1973

(Perritano, 2011). This innovative show, which focused on a family dealing with

marital issues, gay lifestyle, and changing values, ultimately served as a stepping-

stone for reality television today (PBS, 2011).

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B. Different Reality Television Shows

Singing competitions, endurance challenges, document ary , and dating- based

are all different genres among the reality television realm. And in the company of

each of these different reality shows are a diverse group of individuals that make up

the personalities of the show. Shows like American Idol, where being an overnight

pop star is honored; and The Jersey Shore, where over- the - top partying is ridiculed,

are both shows praised by the viewing public . “During Summer 2010 alone, 15 of

the top 20 highest - rated programs were reality or unscripted shows” (Carter, 2010).

This evidently illustrates that most viewers’ embrace all reality television shows

whether it depicts the successes or failures of others.

Reality television can serve as different purposes such as incentive, advice,

insight, or pure entertainment for a quick escape from life. Hence reality television

being “real,” it is easier for us to relate to the individuals involved in these shows

through similar issues, environment, job, or families. But the TV personalities

depicted on these reality shows may be exaggerated or even understated and turn

out to really not be who you have been watching all along.

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Figure 1: Info graphic on Real ity TV By The Numbers

8 Figure 1: Info graphic on Real ity TV By The Numbers (Citation for Figure 1

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C. Problem

“For many, reality television is the lowest form of entertainment, an insult to

our collective intelligence. In their view, reality TV lauds crass behavior and creates

a voyeuristic peep show. It glorifies abuse, elevates shallow personalities and

promot es dysfunctional relationships” (Pe rritano, 2011). It is sad to say, but

watching other people make fools out of themselves or get humiliated is not only

what is found to be entertaining but it is also profitable. The rise of reality television

is mostly responsible financially because of inexpensive production and higher

revenues. That being said, the powers that be (producers and directors) behind the

scenes of the reality shows will go to extreme measures as far as fabricating

personalities on the show and making them more into “ characters” in order to keep

high viewership.

“Nearly all reality shows aren’t real. Conceits, editing, casting, storytelling,

shooting. They’re not intended to shed beacons of light and truth” (Guttentag,

2008). When ca st personalities are fabricated, general ideas are made; and when

general ideas are made, stereotypes are formed. These stereotypes can lead us to

judge the “real” individuals of our lives based on what we see on television. And

ultimately, can effect how we live our lives in society.

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D. Proposed Solution

The obvious solution to eliminate all reality television would be impossible

and completely preposterous. Therefore, there can be other sol utions to the

following problem. To avoid stereotypes from surfacing due to character

generalization, more diversity can be incorporated into reality television shows.

Moreover, watching reality television can be used positively instead of just for

entertainment purposes. Depending on t he type of show, valuable knowledge can

actually be obtained. But the most prominent and effective solution would be a

greater sense of viewer responsibility.

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E. Questions Researched

This report will analyze a series of questions to help aid in determining the

types of reality television shows common viewers enjoy watching and why, as well

as opinions and noticeable trends. Questions include common demographics such

as: What is your gender? What is your age? What is your ethnicity/race? What is

your sexual orientation? In addition, questions involving television viewership

included: On average, how many hours of television do you watch a week? Among

all the television shows you watch, how many are reality shows? Which of the

following types of reality television shows have you watched? How often have you

watched each reality television show listed below? Using three words or less

(adjectives), how would you describe the casts for the following reality television

shows?

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F. Limitations of Research

There were a large number of limitations when it came to both my primary

and secondary research. Because of time limit, access, and location, I was not able to

retrieve a broader amount of replies for my primary research questionnaire. I was

limited to twenty- five participants of my survey, which consisted of mostly friends

and schoolmates relatively the same age. Allotted more time, I would have liked to

survey a more diverse group of individuals including a larger number of older

individ uals. In addition, a few more questions added to my survey to further my

research would have been desired.

As for my secondary research, I had difficulty finding the most acceptable

sources for my topic. My topic was broad which make it difficult to narro w down to

one main idea while finding the perfect sources to support my investigation.

Moreover, a secondary source I was restricted on using were the Nielsen Ratings. If

given the access to this formidable data, it would help by pointing out specif ic trends

and patterns in correlation with my survey results.

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II. Methodology and Resources

A. Primary Research - Questionnaire

To gather primary information, a survey was administered to those

individuals available and most convenient at the time. On that account, twenty- five

questionnaires were distributed during the month of November 2012. The

participants were selected merely based on locality and time. These individuals

ranged from a wide base including close friends, relatives, schoolmates, a nd co-

workers. All participants were first asked the question, “Do you watch television?”

before beginning the survey. All answers in return were “yes” which strengthened

my target audience of television viewers in my research.

Once the questionnaire was given to the individual, I gave an allotted five to

ten minutes to completely answer all questions fully and truthfully. The survey

began with common demographics questions including gender, age, race, and sexual

orientation. Next, questions were asked regarding their vie wership on reality

television such as how many hours do you spend watching television and how many

reality television shows do you watch? The survey ended with a final opinion

question asking to describe the casts of several reality television shows using only

three (adjective) words or less.

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B. Secondary Research – Outside Data Collection

All information was obtained through personal experience and multiple

sources. These sources ranged from newspaper a rticles, video presentations, and

online blogs. All sources were designated by highly experienced professionals who

have the proper knowledge to speak about their given matter. The collected data

from the secondary research was used to support certain arguments in my research.

The data helped strengthen the credibility of particular issues , both positive and

negative, to further progress the research of this report.

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III. Results and Discussion

A. Survey Results - Questionnaire

The results of the survey provided enlightening statistics and data that

showcased multiple trends in the viewership of reality television. One important

trend observed from the data wa s the larger number of females over males who not

only watched more television a week but also higher num ber of reality television

shows. That being said, a probable conclusion that can be made is females are

more affected by television than males. Female viewers tend to be more

emotionally invested to particular shows a nd are more greatly influenced to what

they watch. In relation, when it comes to age, the younger demographic (16- 25)

spends more time watching television and reality shows when compared to older

viewers. Reality television under the category of competit ion and documentary in

likes of American Idol, The Jersey Shore, and The Real World displayed being

watched most by this demographic.

In addition, a somewhat obvious trend pointed out was competition based

shows being the most popular among all questionnaires. Shows like American Idol

and Survivor were commonly answered as “Watch Religiously,” while related shows

like Dancing With The Stars and The Voice were filled in under ‘Other’ and marked

with the same answer. This statistic may be obvious as these types of competition

based reality shows are often the ones who score big with ratings and viewership

throughout the television season.

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Another trend this research provided was the correlation between gender

and types of reality television shows watched . It was proved that dating - based and

self- improvement shows were more favored towards females, competition shows

more towards male, and documentary- style a split between both . The overall

results drawn from these trends and patterns is that viewers that relate most to the

“characters” of a specific show are influenced most by that show. For example, a

show like The Jersey Shore that depicts the outgoing fun lives of twenty - something’s

is watched most by that very demographic (16- 25). Viewers find most entertaining

the reality shows where they fi nd themselves most in. They enjoy watching the

depiction of these lives whether it is a positive or a negative representation of a

similar lifestyle the TV viewer may have.

Probably the most pivotal part of the questionnaire was the data collected

from the final question asking to describe the casts in specific reality television

shows using only three words (adjectives) or less. The results gathered were

astounding. It was amazing to see how many individuals agreed with the same or

similar words when describing the casts. A show like The Jersey Shore had the cast

described as: uneducated, alcoholics, dramatic, obnoxious, and superficial. With

these labels describing The Jersey Shore cast who are dominantly Italian and from

the New Jersey area, it can lead to the generalization of these groups ultimately

leading to stereotypes. Moreover, a show like Teen Mom was described as

irresponsible, troubled, and immature. These terms can lead viewers to judge all

teenage girls as this from the influence of merely watching the show. All in all, the

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way viewers see the characters of a reality television show are the true depictions of

how they are on the show .

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Figure 2: Survey Results- Description of Cast (The Jersey Shore)

2 : Survey Results - Description of Cast (The Jersey Shore) Figure 3 : Survey Results

Figure 3: Survey Results- Description of Cast (The Real Housewives)

Results - Description of Cast ( The Real Housewives ) Figure 4 : Survey Results -

Figure 4: Survey Results- Description of Cast (Teen Mom )

4 : Survey Results - Description of Cast ( Teen Mom ) (Figures 2, 3, 4

(Figures 2, 3, 4 were generated using Microsoft Power Point)

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B. Results of Secondary Research

Through secondary research, I was able to make much more conclusions

when it came to the issue at hand. “Reality has largely gotten a pass because it

ostensibly reflects “reality” overlooking how participants are depicted as

“characters” in mu ch the way fictional personalities are” (Lowry, 2010). With that

being said, it provides an entirely new perspective on reality television and how the

ways it influences society are less superficial than it seems. Watching various

genres of reality television myself, it is hard to ignore the types of roles several

shows may have in a common. The outspoken teenager, the quiet and shy, the

insecure gay, or the sexually active are all typical roles that can be commonly seen

on reality television. “A less- settling prospect is that less- educated audiences are

also tuning in, and perhaps drawing unflattering conclusions based on narrow

stereotypes” (Lowry, 2010). Many reality television shows today are beginning to

be perceived as false due to the power and control that television has today.

Producers of reality television will “create a character for her[self] (or himself) to

play to merely increase ratings. She (or he) would be that archetype role no matter

who she (or he) truly was” (Guttentag, 2008). These predetermined roles are used

to fulfill any gaps the show may have whether it is a gender or racial related role. All

these falsifications made are merely for the fulfillment of viewers.

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IV. Conclusion and Recommendation

A. Review and Recap

“Reality TV is influencing our lives whether w e watch or not” (Perritano,

2011). Reality television has been affecting our lives since its first emergence and

will continue to do so today and in the future. Reality television has become a part

of our lifestyle and “has slithered into our culture” (Perritano, 2011 ). Although

reality television may promote the worst values and qualities in people and glorify

the failures, some may convey a positive message and actually be used for self -

improvement. Reality television is actually just giving the viewers what they want,

(Taylor, 2011) having their wishes fulfilled on the television (Guttentag, 2008).

Reality television having such characters who find true love , become a notable star,

or an insta nt millionaire gives viewers the opportunity to live their dreams

vicariously from the other side of the box .

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B. Solution and Recommendations

One solution I recommend which I originally proposed earlier would be to

further diversify the cast invol ved in reality television. To avoid any stereotypes or

obvious predetermined roles, unique and unexpected individuals should be casted.

With more diverse personalities on reality television, it will potentially eliminate

any more stereotypes and create a new dynamic for the show. Moreover, mixing

people of different genders, races, sexual orientation and cultures will create a more

positive relation between the show and its viewers.

Another logical solution would simply be viewer responsibility on what kinds

of reality television they choose to watch. You can continue to watch shows merely

for the mishaps and tribulations of life or be informed by the positive messages

reality TV may have. A show like The Biggest Loser may display obesity but it

“convey(s) important information about diet, weight loss, hea lth and fitness

(Perritano, 2011). Moreover, shows like Hoarders or True Life can serve as

informative to individuals with similar behavior or as public awareness to the

population.

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C. Next Steps

Just imagine, “What if reality TV was actual reality?” Keep in mind as

viewers, that what you are watching is not always real life. Do not always allow

yourself to fully invest in the characters and stories depicted on these shows as they

can all just be a fabrication . Have control on what you watch and do not let it greatly

affect your judgments about other individuals. Remember, reality television is not

going anywhere and it is here to stay – for a very long, long time. It will continue to

affect not only society but also every individual internally and emotionally who

watches . So make a difference while you have the chance and try not to get

brainwashed!

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References

Carter, Bill. "Tired of Reality TV, but Still Tuning In." The New York Times.

September 13, 2010. (December 2012).

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/13/business/media/13reality.html

Guttentag, Bill. "Why are Reality TV Shows So Popular?" March 19, 2008. Online

video clip. You Tube. Accessed on November 2012.

Perritano, John. "What is reality TV's influence on culture?" How Stuff Works. April

2011. (October, 2012). http://people.howstu ffworks.com/culture-

traditions/tv - and- culture/reality- tvs - influence - on - culture.htm

PBS. "An American Family." (December, 2012). http://www.pbs.org/lanceloud/

american/

Taylor, Jim. "Reality TV is NOT Reality." Hartford Courant. Jan. 31, 2011. (November,

2012).http://blog.ctnews.com/taylor/2011/01/31/reality- tv- is- not - reality/