Reality Television of the 21st Century and What It Tells About Society as a Whole


Media plays a very large impact and role in the lives of thousands of people who have such access to it. It is undeniable that many things which happens in the current society is due to media—that is it has contributed to the information dissemination of many things. Advertisements, news feeds, weather forecasts are the ones which has a direct effect on people, and yet there may still be other effects which are not really that conclusive or apparent but there is an effect or an impact. For example, sociologists and many other people have debated the issue of whether violence and other taboo subjects which is openly portrayed, shown and sometimes, even “glorified” are actual contributors to violent acts of people—school shooting or teenage suicide for starters.

Mass media is so large and encompasses a wide market that any conclusions of what it says about people and what is says to people are every inconclusive but one thing is for sure—that there are things or aspects within it that says things about people and the society which comprises those people. After all, even if mass media supposedly affects the people at large, it is people who have created and who controls mass media and unknowingly, they are already being “controlled” by mass media.

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In the essays or articles of Coleman, Rushdie and Prose, reality television is basically considered as a negative thing though not necessarily bad or evil. What all three writers are merely concluding is that reality television has taken a negative effect on us since people now are “voyeurs” (Rushdie), “flimsy” (Coleman) and “dishonest” (Prose). And they all do have a point, reality television is not so realistic anymore but it gets very confusing because reality right now has really no basis and definition as the world of make believe is wrapped up in the reality of lies.

Rushdie and Coleman has both written that reality television has hidden or distorted the genuine reality of society; however, Prose is telling a different thing. Instead, she tells the readers that reality television is actually real—that is, it is so real that society and the government are all actors themselves. Reality television exists for one reason—people want to believe that that is reality and that says many things about society as a whole—one is that the ethical and moral values which were ones instilled in people are not to be considered as standards anymore; rather, it has become an option.

The Reality in Reality Television

When Rushdie wrote his article, it is merely to point out that the viewers are voyeurs and there is something very wrong with that. It means to say that the general public has really got it all wrong since the ethical and moral values which were once the standards and foundation of everyday decision has long gone or is disappearing and is instead replaced by the need for watching other people do “normal” things on nationwide television.

Coleman has written that there is actually a “distortion” happening—that is to say, reality television is not really reality at all but what is perceived to be the reality of big networks, advertisers and show producers. Because of the settings, plot, lines, and characters present in these reality shows, people have perceived that they are all real—the evil cheerleader, the sensitive artsy type, the dumb blond and so on. The nasty words and heated arguments are all so normal and “realistic” that is also normal to say out nasty words and start heated arguments in the middle of nowhere. Thus, what reality television is doing are actually two things—to make voyeurs out of everyone and to input the definition of what reality is.

Francine Prose’s Essay

Francine Prose does have a different case and there is great truth in what she is saying. Rather than to look at what reality television (or mass media) is doing to people, perhaps it is better to look at a different angle and view what reality television is telling about the people who are living in the present age. In simple terms, what does reality television say about the current society? In Prose’s essay, she wonders on what people from the far future would say and conclude about the reality television of the current times? The same way that there are studies of what kind of society was there in the early 90’s based on the television shows and advertisements they have back then, what would people say about the current times if they would study about the media 30 to 50 years from now?

Prose discusses the fact that what anthropologists would be unearthing is a society who finds joy in “dishonesty” and in not so many words, one which is selfish and is a “parody of democracy, robbed of its heart and soul, a democracy in which everyone always votes, for himself”. What Prose is trying to point out (and make the readers contemplate on) is the underlying question of whether we would like to be known for such traits and values (or the lack thereof). After all, if these are the kind of reality television which is being aired, then that is to say, it is sensible to conclude that the society at that time acts, thinks and talks as the same way.

Society, Reality and What is Perceived as Reality by Society

In reply to Prose’s essay, there is a great sense in what she has written on what does it say about the current society if the reality television being aired are as such. The great financial and viewer appeal of such reality televisions says a lot about the society that we live in. In Survivor, it is a rule to be unite with the tribe as well as fight for one’s own advancement and success with no concerns of how a person will achieve that. Strategies consist of backstabbing, lying, deception and in some cases, even foul play and yet it is a matter of outwitting, outplaying and outlasting other players.

In makeover shows, people are to believe that plastic surgeries are synonymous to being beautiful and handsome while the general perception or standards of such beauty is based on the general notion of being blond, fair, tall, slim and “TV perfect”. The angst portrayed by troubled teenagers or the sleeping around with multiple partners are no longer social issues which needs to be addressed, instead, they are “glorified” and is cool that the perception of adolescents are changed. Reality television has more than distorted the truth or the definition of reality—it has, instead, dictated what the truth of the reality is. In fact, reality television is the basis of society’s reality and not the other way around.


Reality television does not exactly exists for one reason only which is people would want to believe the reality reflected in the shows are the version of reality that they want to  consider.  And it is also not entirely factual or logical to conclude that because of the perception of people about reality television says many things about society as a whole. However, there is insurmountable sense to conclude that the ethical and moral values which were ones instilled in people are not wholly present anymore.

Prose has written that to show ethics or any other form of values like altruism and compassion is deemed as a sigh of weakness, fault and failure. If that is the case, then there is no wonder why the current society talks, thinks and functions as it is—there should be someone to explain it to the anthropologists in the future.

Works Cited

  1. Coleman, Sarah. “The Distorting Mirror of Reality TV”. Interactions: A Thematic Reader, 6th     Ed. Ed. Anne Moseley and Jeanette Harris. Massachusetts: Wadsworth Publishing,        2006. page numbers.
  2. Prose, Francine. “Voting Democracy Off the Island: Reality TV and the Republican Ethos”.      Harper’s Magazine. 01 March 2004.
  3. Rushdie, Salman. “Reality TV: A Dearth of Talent and the Death of Morality Salman Rushdie   on the Perils of Voyeurism”. The Guardian. 09 June 2001.

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Reality Television of the 21st Century and What It Tells About Society as a Whole. (2016, Nov 14). Retrieved from