Reality TV -- Is it Reality?

by Trish Overby

Let us imagine 10-15 strangers 'stranded' on a tropical island or in a house (very little outside contact) who must live together for the next few weeks. Movie cameras are placed all over the house or island to 'watch' how they live together. Whoever survives the test of living this way is the victor. This is what we call Reality TV and over the past 1-2 years it has been the NEW television product from our big TV producers. But is it reality? Isn't it just a new version of the 'soaps' slice of life with real people in an unscripted situation? What is the big attraction to this new type of TV show?

According to Andy Dehnart, creator of the website, the attraction is "stars are real people, we relate to them differently, living vicariously through them, or criticising them relentlessly(and harmlessly). We fall in love with them or despise them more than we ever could with fictional characters." 1 Our voyeurism takes us into the lives of these individuals on the TV without having to face the problems and realities these characters face. One could say viewers are escaping reality to live through the characters' lives. We have seen this reaction before with all the soap operas over the last 40-50 years. The viewers' lives might be a mess but at least the Ewings or Dynasty crowd will always find a solution to their newest problem and move on in their 'lives'. Thus, this gives the viewer 'hope' that their lives will work out and they can move onto a new 'episode'. But is hope really what we get from these reality TV shows?

A definition of hope might be desiring circumstances were different from what they are right now. We all need this hope in our lives. How we can receive this from watching an unscripted drama or comedy is beyond me. The 'jump' between TV reality to our own lives is in our own imaginations. We might look at a character of Big Brother or Survivor in a situation like our own such as disagreement with those people who try to organise the group. We viewers might be interested to see how this character solves the conflict or situation. Does he negotiate with persuasion or does he go in and 'take over' with force? Whatever the TV character does could inspire us to the same action for our problem at work or school. But generally, I think we TV viewers don't make that switch in our own personal lives.

Escape From Reality

Instead we want an 'escape' from reality. We want to forget for a short time the problem or situation we face. "It's still a release, and it's a distraction from the problems of everyday life," says Paul Schulman, media analyst from Advanswers PhD, "No matter what, people still want to be entertained." 2

So it is an escape from reality all along that propels us to watch this type of TV show. It is not that we see these shows as real but we see them as a temporary diversion from our reality. Does it make our reality better afterwards? That is really up to each individual. We feel this need for a diversion is necessary because, whether we acknowledge it openly or not, we aren't happy with our lives. We feel our lives could be better and more meaningful. Our response to Reality TV should be that it isn't reality and we need to live our own lives regardless of the celebrities we see.

This is especially true after the tragic events of Sept. 11. Everyone would agree the scenes we saw taking place in New York was Reality TV (much to our horror and disbelief). But perhaps some people would agree that this 'reality' woke them up to seek out a more meaningful life. Our family and friends became more important to us. Also, the TV news reported that church services were full, not only directly after the tragedy, but they still are four months after the tragic event. Because we felt our security shattered in the Twin Towers, we started searching for something outside of ourselves to give us that security.

Security in Reality

Our need for security is more than physical. We always assume that the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing will give us this security. But you don't find these things in a church. What is it we are looking to find in church or outside of our world? Is there some other reality, apart from the possessions we can have that will bring us security? Is there some other Being who can give us this security and meaning to our lives?

Yes, this Being is our loving Creator who made us. He made us like Himself with intellects, emotions and, more importantly, spirits (so we can talk to Him and listen to Him). He knows us deeper and more intimately than any person on this earth. He knows how we feel today. He knows what we are thinking at this moment. He knows every little detail of each and every life on this earth. He wants the very best for us, just as our earthly parents do. And just as our mothers and fathers want us to be happy, so does our heavenly Father. It is living fully in this reality that brings meaning and security to our lives.

So be entertained with the Reality TV but know your life's fulfilment and security are not in them. Reality is in the person who created us and wants our lives to be real because of His love and care for us.

1 Mariel Garza, "CSUN Extension to Explore TV Phenom", , (Oct. 8, 2001).

2 Paul Schulman, "Is Reality TV in Danger?", Entertainment Weekly

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