The “Unreality” of Reality Television

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What bothers me the most about television shows like The Hills is the fact that people perceive this to be real life opposed to a quasi-scripted MTV production that is more akin to improvisation than anything else.  For example, when Lauren is interviewing for her Teen Vogue internship it is obvious that she bombed the interview.  Lisa Love asks Lauren, “Can you write,” and instead of telling Love what makes her an apt writer she simply responses with a sheepish “Yes.”

“Well?”

“I like to write,” responds Lauren.

Her interviewing skills are so poor that it is actually uncomfortable to watch; however, later in the episode Lauren magically lands her internship with Teen Vogue, an event that would never happen in real life.

Yet people perceive this to be the real deal.  My 18-year-old sister, a diehard of The Hills and The City, frequently refers to events that have happened in Lauren’s, Heidi’s, and Whitney’s lives as if they had happened to a good friend.  My sister wants to intern at Teen Vogue this summer, and she cut her hair to look more like Lauren’s years ago.  She has said countless times that Lauren Conrad is the prettiest person she has ever seen, and she wants to look and be just like her.  Is this an extreme case though?  Unfortunately, I don’t think it is, because more people than I would like to admit interpret reality TV as, well, reality even when they know better.  In that way, reality television is like advertising, you know the advertisements are gimmicks, but somehow we do subconsciously buy into them.

Even I bought into the first season of The City.  I would tell people that I only watched it, because the show was on whenever I worked out at Palladium, but no, I really did watch it.  I watched it until this summer when I was interning at Bergdorf Goodman, and I found out that Samantha, Whitney Port’s friend that “works” there as an assistant buyer, was actually a BG intern from a few years ago.  She now interns there once every two weeks or so to maintain her matriculation with the company, but she is no means an assistant buyer or even a paid employee.  They even taped an episode at the office this summer, and instead of being excited by it, I was actually kind of disappointed, because all of the glitz and glamour was instantly sucked out of the show for me.  It was like learning how the magician pulls off the magic trick, for the experience was anticlimactic and somewhat disappointing.

Thus, even though we “know better” than to think this is “real” life, perhaps on a subconscious level we don’t.  Perhaps we kind of enjoy voyeuristically looking into the lives of the rich and the famous-for-no-reason characters like Lauren Conrad…even if we’ll only admit to watching these show at the gym.

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