What is reality TV's influence on culture?

Effects of Reality TV: The Good

For Heather Havrilesky it was more than stuff. It was her father's life. Photographs of old girlfriends she never met. Books. An old driver's license. Heather's father had died, but as she writes, "how do you say goodbye to someone else's things without losing a piece of that person forever?" [source: Havrilesky].

Then Heather began to watch TV shows about hoarders. She decided to do something about her own problem. She went into a "cleaning frenzy, rifling through my closets and driving big bags of old stuff to Goodwill" [source: Havrilesky].


Such is the power of reality television. While many people think that reality TV is nothing more than a series of freak shows, some serve the greater good. A good deal of what is on TV can be very useful to the viewer. Although hoarders have been around for centuries, shows such as "Hoarders" and "Hoarding: Buried Alive" have increased public awareness about a serious mental health issue [source: Pina]

"Extreme Makeover" was once criticized for making plastic surgery seem risk-free. In fact, there was a spike in people seeking plastic surgery every time the show aired. By the time the show ended, however, it depicted the reality of the surgical procedures [source: Jaffe].

While reality shows are mainly produced as entertainment, many convey important information about diet, weight loss, health and fitness [source: Kaiser Family Foundation]. For example, although many say TV's most controversial reality shows, MTV's "Teen Mom" and "16 and Pregnant," glamorize teen pregnancy, some believe the shows act as a form of high-tech birth control [source: McMahon].

In 2009, the teenage pregnancy rate in the United States dropped to its lowest levels in 70 years. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released a survey in 2010, in which 87 percent of teens who had watched MTV's "16 and Pregnant" felt the show educated them about becoming a parent at such a young age. Only 17 percent felt the show glamorized teen pregnancy [source: McMahon].

Reality shows also reflect a more diverse nation. A 2008 report released by the NAACP said non-whites are underrepresented in almost every aspect of the television industry -- except for reality programming. It's not that reality shows are more racially or culturally sensitive. Frankly, mixing people of different races, genders, sexual orientation and cultures creates conflict, and conflict sells [source: Braxton].

And, at the end of the day, isn't making money what reality TV is really all about?

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • Braxton, Greg. "The greater reality of minorities on TV." Los Angeles Times. Feb. 17, 2009. (April, 2011).
  • Cassidy, Sarah. "Teenagers beguiled by false dreams of instant fame on reality TV." The Independent. Jan. 13, 2006. (April, 2011).
  • Havrilesky, Heather. "How hording shows cured my hoarding." Salon. April 10, 2010. (April, 2011).
  • Jaffe, Eric. "Observer." Association for Psychological Science." March, 2005. (April, 2011).
  • Maxwell, Richard. "Surveillance Work: Myth and Policy. (April, 2011).
  • McMahon, Tamsin. "Teen moms on TV-the new birth control?" National Post. Dec. 22, 2010. (April, 2011).
  • Oldenbrug, Ann. "Rutgers pays Snooki More than Toni Morrison." USA Today. April, 1, 2011. (April, 2011).
  • PBS. "An American Family." (April, 2011).
  • Pina, Tatiana. "Hoarding: When stacks of stuff are only a symptom." Providence Journal. April, 18, 2011. (April, 2011).
  • Rooney, Brian. "From Feisty to Faithful: Omarosa, Others Lament Price of Reality Fame." ABC News. Sept. 3, 2009. (April, 2011).
  • Steinberg, Jacques. "SAT's Reality TV Essay Stumps Some." The New York Times. March, 16, 2011. (April, 2011).
  • Taylor, Jim. "Reality TV is NOT Reality." Hartford Courant. Jan. 31, 2011. (April, 2011).
  • The Kaiser Family Foundation: "The Reality of Health: Realty Television and the Public Health." October, 2006. (April, 2011).
  • Wolcott, James. "I'm a Culture Critic…Get Me Out of Here." Vanity Fare. December, 2009. (April, 2011).