News / USA

    Fascination With Reality TV Could be Genetic

    Being nosey increased odds of survival for early humans

    Rocker Brett Michaels stars in a new reality show called, 'Life as I Know It.'
    Rocker Brett Michaels stars in a new reality show called, 'Life as I Know It.'

    Could our mutual fascination with reality TV be genetically predetermined?

    According to at least one expert, the answer is yes.

    "Reality shows may appeal to something reptile in our brain," says Bob Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "Human beings around the world tend toward voyeurism."

    Survival instinct

    In fact, Thompson believes being nosey increased the odds of survival for primitive man tens of thousands of years ago.

    "The person who was peeping into the next door cave and found that they had a lot more bones in it than we did, that was important information," he says. "These people must be doing something because they are eating more than we are. I think it is a human tendency to be nosy, to look into the medicine cabinet when you're in some else's bathroom. Reality shows give you a window to someone else's world."

    Syracuse University Professor Bob Thompson sees reality TV as a form of contemporary art.
    Syracuse University Professor Bob Thompson sees reality TV as a form of contemporary art.

    Reality TV comes in many different forms: from competitions like "Survivor" to shows that follow the day-to-day activities of otherwise ordinary people such as on "Jersey Shore".

    Bob Thompson thinks part of the appeal is similar to when drivers slow down as they pass the scene of a crash.

    "Reality shows are like an accident waiting to happen," says Thompson. "It is the equivalent of taking a big room full of tables, filling it with breakable objects and glass vases pushed to the very edge of the table and releasing 10 kittens. Turn on the camera, you know it will be exciting. In about 15 minutes, all that glass will be on the floor in pieces."

    Social experiment

    Reality TV is not an exclusively American phenomenon.

    "It's definitely global," says Thompson who points out that most reality TV started outside the United States.

    The show "Pop Idol" first sprouted overseas and was reversioned with US themes and people. That revamped version went on to become the ratings smash, "American Idol."

    Thompson sees reality TV as an interesting social experiment.

    "It is kind of like a documentary but what it documents are artificial situations. These people are carefully selected. They are put into controlled and artificial situations and then and only then do you turn on the cameras and record what people without scripts do," he says. "Even in Jersey Shore, those people didn't know each other and they would not have been in that house on the Jersey shore. You get a bunch of people and its' like a chemistry experiment."

    Mark Cronin is an American reality show producer with a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. He draws on that expertise to create chemistry between people he casts in his shows. Cronin has produced reality shows such as, "Charm School," "Rock of Love," and "I Love NY."

    For chemical engineer turned TV producer, Mark Cronin, the right chemistry is critical to the success of a reality show.
    For chemical engineer turned TV producer, Mark Cronin, the right chemistry is critical to the success of a reality show.

    "The shows usually feature people whose thinking is unfiltered, a person who tells you what they are feeling and doesn't hold back on what they are thinking," says Cronin. "They have an outrageous personality, not necessarily a marketable skill other than doing another reality show."

    Global phenomenon

    American reality shows are hot overseas. They are cheap to produce and since they are so popular in America, there is a buzz about them worldwide.

    Cronin sold his company, Mindless Entertainment, to an international company which is now showing popular American reality shows overseas.

    "Our shows can be seen in many, many countries from Scandinavia, to Europe, down to the Middle East and even into Asia and they also sell the formats of the shows," says Cronin. "They sell the format to be produced in the local countries in the local language."

    That does not surprise TV expert Thompson.

    "I think a lot of American reality TV shows are eminently exportable. There is a lot of inventory and this stuff is proven to do very well with one audience," he says. "And the expectation is that it may do well with other audiences, especially the stuff that has already been played and has the buzz of these shows in the first place."

    Warped reality

    Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University director Bob Thompson does not think reality TV is a passing fad. In fact, he sees it as a form of contemporary art.

    "Anyone holding their breath that reality TV is going away had better quit holding it because they are going to suffocate. Reality is here to stay."

    As reality TV continues to mushroom all over the world, it could give foreign audiences a warped view of the United States and Americans.

    "To understand a culture, you not only have to know about its leaders, its wars, and economic history, you have to know about its love songs, lawn ornaments and TV shows," Thompson says." When you export any kind of culture, or programming, storytelling or whatever, those things become ambassadors of the country of origin to the places they will later play. They create all kinds of stereotypes and impressions."

    That could be seen as a negative impact of reality TV.

    "It is kind of scary. If we learned about what America was like only by watching reality TV, we would have a really, really bad opinion of the country," says Thompson.

    Despite his reservations, Thompson still finds reality shows fun to watch. And he's obviously not alone since millions of people worldwide enjoy them, too.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora