Reality TV: Trash or Masterpiece?

In the coming weeks I will be moving away from recapping such highbrow art as True Blood to start recapping some reality TV faves. In preperation, here is a short article about my personal feelings towards reality TV as a genre. Enjoy and check back soon for all the reality based snark you can handle.

Note: This article orginally appeared on Popmatters.com

My feelings about reality TV are hard to explain. As a person who wants to make a living writing for television I think it’s a horrible trend that needs to end soon. Preferably in the next year. Yet, as a young woman of Generation Y, I am absolutely addicted to reality TV. I love it the way I love candy corn, even when I feel myself becoming sick as I gorge myself, I can’t stop eating it. I would say that reality TV is my guilty pleasure except that I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it. My guilt mostly comes from the fact that I don’t feel guilty, if that makes any sense.

I wish that I could join in conversations about how reality TV is ruining today’s culture, but my intimate knowledge of every Real Housewife episode across the country prevents me. I wish I was the type of person who could refer to all reality TV as trash, but instead I am the person who uses Jersey Shore slang in everyday conversations. These are not things that I am necessarily proud of, but they are facts, nonetheless.

I think the fact that I am a television writing major makes my love of reality television even more confusing for other people—well it makes it confusing for me, too.  My knowledge of the television industry makes me even more aware of how actually and technically horrible most reality shows are. This makes my adoration for these shows even more conflicting. But, my basic love for reality TV goes back to the fact that I think the fundamental idea of reality TV is genius.

Yes, you read that correctly; genius. I’m not saying all reality shows currently on television are genius, far from it. But the basic idea of the genre is genius. Invading people’s lives and relationships with cameras so that complete strangers are now a part of every intimate moment, elevating the most mundane aspects of human existence to a shared cultural experience? That is brilliant.

People can whine and complain all they want about how reality TV is rotting our brains and ruining television, but the facts remain that reality TV has changed not only the way we view our lives, but the way we live them. How many young girls based their entire middle school friendships on who had the better insights to The Hills? How many relationships have been formed over a shared love for Factor? Not to mention how many people have been inspired by the heartwarming stories shared on everything from American Idol to So You Think You Can Dance? and Amazing Race to Dancing With the Stars, just to name a few. You can argue the importance of these influences, but you can’t argue their existence and anything that has permeated our popular culture so deeply can’t be completely discounted.

Reality TV has become so mainstream now that the majority is just stereotypical extremes, but the basic formula is still there and that’s what makes it so deliciously addicting. So, as I enter the world of scripted television, there is nothing I can do besides curse my preoccupation with hand eye coordination in 1992 so I didn’t have time to pitch The Real World and do my best to make scripted television that is just as realistically captivating as the reality TV I have come to, yes, love.

– Devin Mainville

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One comment

  1. Reality Tv is a trashy masterpiece! I agree. Good luck penning the next great scripted show.

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