Television has been one of the forms of entertainment for decades now, while reality or unscripted TV shows started to appear on TV screens since the early 1990s. This genre of television became a global phenomenon in the early 2000s with the shows like Big Brother and Survivor. These shows gained a huge worldwide popularity as people realized that watching other people compete in something, plot, scheme, fall in love and break hearts of others on TV was very interesting and compelling. Since the early days of reality television until today there has been a revolutionary development of what is broadcast on TV, and what people tune in to watch on a weekly or daily basis. These new shows are the celebration of the half-witted backstabbing personality of the rich and famous, or competitors who lack values, self-respect, and dignity. What people see unfold in these shows only fuels the stereotypes about people, and viewers allow and endorse these shows. The success of reality programs shows that people are voyeuristic by their nature and watching others, they relive something they do not have in their lives – scandals, romances, competition, etc. Watching these shows, viewers celebrate these actions as without the audience such shows will die, declining in ratings and brining no profit to their creators.
Some people get so fascinated with reality television that sometimes forget that it is just entertainment; they slowly start to transform their own life and families into what they see on television. Child beauty pageants are a perfect example of such a fascination with reality television. According to Christine Tamer, “Stage moms are seen choreographing dance routines, purchasing $ 1,000 dresses, insisting that their children be spray tanned, and adorning the beauty queens with fake nails, hair, and eyelashes” (Tamer, 2011). In her article Toddlers, Tiaras, and Pedophilia? The "Borderline Child Pornography" Embraced by the American Public, the author argues that children become sexual objects in such child pageants, which potentially can greatly harm the psychological development of these young contestants, and the society in general.
Such television shows as “Toddlers & Tiaras” and “Little Miss Perfect” show what happens at the child beauty pageants in America, how children are prepared and trained for the shows. Small girls dressed in the outfits that not every adult model would wear, show off their beauty on stage, becoming the target of affection for pedophiles, child molesters, and other sick individuals. Some child therapists believe that young participants in child beauty pageants could be potentially prone to the development of eating or psychological disorders, low self-esteem, depression, and dissatisfaction with their bodies.
The worst thing is that parents themselves do not understand possible future consequences of these shows. Parents give children a perception that rejects natural beauty and allows them to embrace the superficial aspect of their appearance. Children learn that beauty is everything in this world, that what is outside is more valuable than what is inside (a person’s soul and personality). It is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children and prepare them for the adult life, so while adults can watch whatever they chose, they should not subject their children to the influence of the superficial ways of the modern reality television.
There are also competition-based reality shows that make humiliation or embarrassment of the participants the factor that attracts numerous viewers and brings high ratings, resulting in high profit. It seems a reality show cannot become successful or profitable without making its participants embarrassed or putting them through humiliating contests. Moreover, contestants willingly participate in these shows and nobody forces them to do that. Why is that? They are on TV, millions of people watch their every move, follow their every word, and even being quite often shown in unfavorable light, they are nevertheless important.
Perhaps, it is in the human nature to get entertained by the humiliation of others and reality television simply caters to this desire. As Frederick Schick puts it, “gloating involves thinking oneself somehow superior to another” (Mendible, 2004). Knowing this, a smart person will understand why people like to watch such shows as American Idol or Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. When some untalented hopeful who thinks that he is the next Michael Jackson comes to an audition for American Idol, the whole country is eagerly expecting the devastating critique from the judges, who will shatter the hopeful’s dreams about stardom. It is understandable why these people are ready to go through humiliation – to get noticed, but why do viewers like watching others get humiliated so much?
The answer is relatively simple. Viewers compare themselves to the participants and are happy to see that they are better; it is like a healing balm on their self-esteem (Alderman, 2013). They tell themselves that they would never do something like that and get embarrassed on the national TV in front of the whole country. It is a matter of personal preference whether one should watch such shows or not, but like with child beauty pageants children should not watch shows like these, because their view of what is right and what is wrong will be distorted.
As much as people like to watch others subject themselves to embarrassment and humiliation, reality-based shows, showing the dramatic relationships in casts comprised of people with various backgrounds, attract a great deal attention from the viewers as well. Yet again, it is interesting for people to observe the clash of personalities, different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, racial and ethnic roots that will inevitably follow in reality programs. The more diverse a cast in a show is, the more success and attention it will attract.
Some scholars believe that reality shows with characters that show groups that have always been misrepresented on TV or even under-presented, can positively influence the image of these groups in the eyes of the viewers (Orbe, 2008). Others think that such shows only reinforce the mass-media caricatures. They argue that, for instance, the show like The Real World “contributes to the hegemonic power of racial images and reinforces societal fears of Black men” (Orbe, 2008).
Watching various reality shows, a smart viewer should remember that these shows depict and portray groups of people based on their ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious or economic background in a stereotypical manner. Therefore, it is up to the viewer to accept such a clichéd portrayal or take everything with a grain of salt.
Summing up the above-said, the following can be concluded. Reality TV has become the inherent part of the modern television with its various competition-based shows, shows that glorify and promote child beauty pageants or stereotypical portrayal of different people. The backstabbing and spoiled rich and famous have become the example to follow for many young men and women, so it is necessary to be very critical about what people watch and what members of their families watch. There is no need to watch shows where people are humiliated and embarrassed in order to feel good and satisfied with life.