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What reality TV is really saying

Reality TVMuch is said these days about reality television — but what exactly is reality television saying? It seems there are certain key phrases that run across the board in this unprecedented genre of television, whether used in the makeover, wife swapping, or island survival variety:

“This incredible journey” — To most people, a journey would entail either actually going somewhere, or, if used in a figurative sense, achieving enlightenment of some kind. To stars of reality television, however, it might mean being confined to an opulent harem mansion; a packed house under 24-hour surveillance; or (horrors!) a small town in the mid-west. And yet so many stars of reality television — particularly the unpopular ones — seem to leave the show seeing it as an ultimately positive and enlightening experience.

“It’s time for you to go home” — Do they ever really go home? Or do they just catch a plane in time for their appearance on the Today show the next morning, then continue the momentum with other public appearances on talk shows and even more reality shows, and then, perhaps months later — with all other options and endorsements exhausted — they go home.

“You look amazing tonight” — An innocent enough comment, until you realize that it’s repeatedly bestowed upon the women who display optimal cleavage during the rose ceremony on shows like The Bachelor, and are therefore safe from being sent packing for one more episode.

“That being said…”
— The ultimate curve ball, this statement usually follows a hook speech of praise that makes you certain that person is going to be chosen as the next Millionaire, American Idol, or Top Model. Instead, they are given their walking papers, and shuttled off to join their fallen comrades in plugging the very show that just rejected them.

Everyone questions just how real reality television is. “It’s scripted,” people scoff; “it’s edited.” How could Donald Trump hire that idiot? How could Paris Hilton not know what Wal-Mart is? How could Ozzy Osbourne make that sandwich by himself? At the end of the day, questioning the authenticity of reality TV shows is futile. They are not claiming to be documentaries, after all. And looking for any deep meaning in them may prove to be as elusive as the coveted million-dollar prize at the end of the “journey.”

Content Creator
Giselle Melanson Tattrie is a writer and researcher who has worked in TV, film and print. She is currently the features editor for Popjournalism as well as the technical and content editor for Drawspace Publishing. Giselle lives in Nova Scotia with her husband and two children.
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