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 promotes dysfunctional relationships.
Yet, we watch. But why? Is it because reality TV is like passing a car wreck on the highway -- we just have to look? Experts say our fascination has less to do with voyeurism and more to do with ourselves. According to Ohio State University psychologist Steven Reiss, some people watch reality TV because it makes them feel superior. Others watch because they want to see other people humiliated [source: Jaffe].
What else could explain our fascination with "Puck," one of the first reality TV stars of MTV's "Real World." Puck routinely picked his nose and shouted homophobic obscenities at his gay roommate.
Some psychologists say that such behavior on television has made popular culture into a cesspool of amoral behavior. Or perhaps, the reverse is true: If people did not want to view reality shows, then we wouldn't watch them [source: Taylor]. Some psychologists believe that reality TV is a witch's brew of deceit, vengeance and spite [source: Taylor].
Big deal! It's only television. Yes, but critics say that some shows glorify bad, and sometimes criminal, behavior. Remember Tareq and Michaele Salahi who crashed a White House state dinner in 2009, hoping to land a spot on the "Real Housewives of Washington?"
Reality TV relies on the willingness of ordinary individuals to have their lives played out in front of a camera. That mentality spills into our every day existence. We think nothing of being filmed by street corner surveillance cameras or store security systems.
Many say reality TV has put America through a cultural meat grinder by making stars of ordinary people who have little or no talent. Snooki, Kate Gosselin, Bethenny Frankel. Remember Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth from the original run of "The Apprentice?" Chances are you don't. Reality stars are picked from obscurity, and many end up back there. Some can handle fleeting fame, while others try desperately to hold on to it. They spend most of their time after the show seeking the rush once felt with becoming an instant celebrity [source: Rooney].
The lure of instant fame is overwhelmingly real for some. Ten percent of British teenagers say they would abandon their chances of a good education if they could become a star on reality television. The teens were motivated by money and success [source: Cassidy].
Still, there is some good to reality TV. You just have to look deep to find it.