Course Project: Cultural Impacts of Reality Television


Reality television is a very popular genre of television programming that generally is “unscripted,” documenting “actual events,” and featuring “ordinary” people. Although it has been featured since the early years of television, the current explosion of popularity began approximately in 2000 with Survivor, although The Real World pre-dates it. Critics of the genre have claimed that the term is a misnomer, as many reality TV shows put the participants in exotic locations and/or abnormal situations. This project asks you to characterize our society from a reality television perspective.

The label, “Reality Television” has been falsely applied to several shows that would fall in the category of game/competition shows (The Voice), documentaries (Hoarders), television news, sports television (Wipeout), and talk shows (Iyanla: Fix My Life). Although they contain elements of reality television and sometimes have ordinary people at the core of their programming, it is not ultimately about the lived experience of the person(s). Additionally, celebrities may have shows that reflect reality television-like elements but due to their principal occupation as celebrities, the shows are not considered to be “reality television” as well (Keeping Up With the Kardashians).

Utopia was an American reality television show (based on the Dutch version of the show) that premiered on the Fox network on September 7, 2014. The series follows a group of people who attempt to maintain a society in a remote area. On November 2, 2014 the show was cancelled.

As a reflective exercise, watch the following clip:

Ask yourself the following questions (no submission of your responses is needed).

What do you think this show suggests to us about real life?
Do you think this reality TV show accurately portrays real life for children?
Course Project Instructions

Watch two episodes of one reality television show that you have not watched before. For ideas, type into your Internet browser “reality television” for a list of options and other information.
As you watch, observe as though you were an anthropologist trying to understand a culture by studying an example of its common culture. Take “field notes” that record your observations about the characters, their actions, and their feelings as well as about what the show most fundamentally suggests about life and culture in the U.S.
Draft a 750+ word paper that argues one of the following points about reality television. Address the ways the show you watched illustrates or contradicts the points below. Use your field notes for examples supporting your argument.
Some scholars argue that television mediates our experience and culture. “Media contains the primary fund of ideas that inform our daily lives, sometimes exerting a more compelling influence than family, friends, school, or work” (Russell, 2017, p. 125).
Television critics claim reality shows demonstrate the lengths to which people will go to achieve even fleeting fame and celebrity while glorifying a certain type of lifestyle.
Television critics suggest that reality television programs tap into deep-seated cultural anxieties related to fundamental issues of individual autonomy, privacy, security, and survival.
Find a news article from the year the show originally aired that illustrates one of the points made in your argument. This is not an article about the show you have watched. Consider it an article about something going on in the world at the time your show airs that provides background. For instance, if you were to watch episodes of Survivor from 2008, you might chose the New York Times article on “Backcountry Bonding” for context. Cite the article in your paper, using proper APA style and include is in your reference list. The in-text citation would be, (Tuff, 2008). The reference would be as shown below:
Tuff, S. (2008, May 15). Backcountry bonding. New York Times. Retrieved from Links to an external site.
Include a discussion of your thoughts regarding demographics and stereotypes as illustrated in the reality TV show you watched.
Include the name of the show you watched, the dates the two episodes originally aired, and the network it originally aired on in a properly formatted cover sheet, using APA style.
Submit your essay and a copy of your field notes (can be two separate files) via Canvas.
Example of Field Notes

Field notes are an accounting of observations as you see them, when you see them. This allows you to then craft an essay afterwards based on those observations.

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