10 Ways TV Has Changed American Culture


Shapes (and Mirrors) Our Values

celebrity apprentice cast
Here's a reality show where you'll learn very little about running a business (unless it's not to hire Gary Busey) -- the cast of "All Star Celebrity Apprentice" does a press tour. Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Reality TV is nothing new, and it has come a long way since shows like "Candid Camera." How has the rise of reality television changed us, and what does it say about American culture?

That depends on who you ask -- or which shows you are watching. Some experts think that reality shows make us feel inadequate, and other think it make us feel a lot better about ourselves.

Psychologist Jim Taylor, Ph.D., argues in Psychology Today that reality television shows like "The Apprentice" make viewers feel like they should pursue success, no matter what the cost. He writes that problems like increases in school cheating, cheating in sports and even corporate greed are symptoms of a decline in American values that we can -- at least in part -- attribute to reality television.

On the other hand, The New Yorker columnist Kelefa Sanneh says,"The popularity of unscripted programming has had the unexpected effect of ennobling its scripted counterpart."

In other words, we watch a show like "Honey Boo Boo," and it makes us feel a little bit better about ourselves, and maybe it also makes us feel like we don't have to try so hard, because we're holding ourselves to these lower standards that we see on some reality TV.

However anthropologist Grant McCracken argues that while there is some terrible reality television out there, some reality shows contribute to a "smartening up" in our culture. In shows like these, he says, you come away having learned something. For instance, "Shark Tank" has a lot to teach budding entrepreneurs about pitching their products, determining their prospects for long-term success and valuing a company [source: McCracken].