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Published:November 10th, 2006 11:53 EST
Does Reality TV exploit both the participants and the viewers?

Does Reality TV exploit both the participants and the viewers?

By Hannah Coone

In the past 5 years, there has been a huge rise in the variety and popularity of reality television. They range from the psychological game show Big Brother, to the challenging teamwork of Survivor. Programmes such as these, are quickly being grasped by broadcasting companies on account of their cheap production costs and the endless supply of volunteers willing to take part.  It seems the concept of original ideas for broadcasting channels is failing. TV executives were becoming desperate in finding a show to fill the gap between prime time network programming. So since the viewing population seems to be far from escaping these shows, we need to be asking ourselves, does reality television exploit both the participants and the viewers?
The variations of reality shows include such vulgarity as "Joe Millionaire`. This is a man with model looks, and a big bank account, who tries to seduce a woman. She falls for those physical elements of him, and then is told he is actually penniless. This programme makes men look like dogs, and women look shallow for being so materialistic. Yet people find this show entertaining. What is it that draws in millions of viewers for each show?
Maybe it`s a small delusion of grandeur or the pleasure of "acting God`, the voyeuristic pleasure of observing someone`s daily activities without them knowing you personally. Many of us when young, would always "people watch` so maybe reality TV shows are an extension of this habit, without leaving your own front room. This could be seen as an escape from your own "reality`, to view another`s. Maybe today`s society has too many problems and stresses, so we choose to subject ourselves to this kind of entertainment. Doing so boosts the ratings, which boosts media attention and so whether you like it or not will then expose children to the content of these shows.
The Parents Television Council (PTC) did an analysis of these reality shows from January 2001 to May 2002. They found that "Survivor 2` was one of the most viewed shows by 2-11 year olds during May 2001, pulling in 3.5million for the last episode. The PTC reviewed 38 series, their main concerns being sexual content, foul language and violence. In all, they found 1907 instances of all these obscenities. The PTC analysed these instances in great detail, even giving the rate per hour for obscenities. The PTC concluded their analysis with: The statistics compiled in this study, suggest that reality programming contributes significantly to the already high level of sex and foul language on television. Reality based entertainment programmes aren`t going away any time soon. We can expect them only to become more common, and sadly, increasingly outrageous. " (PTC website, 2004)
This is unfortunately proven by Fox`s reality TV show "Who`s Your Daddy?` where the adoption process is made a mockery of. Following a woman on the trail to find her birth father, they throw in 7 men who will also claim to be her father and she has to pick the real one. If she believes one of these men is her real father that man walks away with $100,000. If that isn`t exploitation towards the woman and her father, then what is? The decision of adoption and the journey of finding ones birth parents is a complex and emotional one, which Fox has turned into entertainment. This created worry, in that this builds distrust in these situations and gives people a chance to make easy money, by exploiting what could be their real child.
In October 2005, it was released that Britain`s Channel 5 is axing reality show "The Farm` following an incident of Rebecca Loos, a minor socialite celebrity, masturbating a pig. Neither will they be showing any more reality shows in the future. The pressure to keep up the ratings with Big Brother is no longer a problem, according to Dan Chambers, director of programmes; Big Brother has peaked now and is on the way down " The time will come when they take it too far as there is so much pressure on them to up the ante. " 
Channel 5 is now looking to appeal to more up market, younger viewers concentrating on drama, comedy and high quality factual shows. So, what are the pros of reality TV? In what ways do they not exploit participants/viewers? For one thing, it gives people a celebrity status that wouldn`t usually be available to them. It can make someone`s dream of fame come true because for them, being a quasi-celebrity is better than being just anther face in a dull existence.
We shouldn`t allow ourselves to be susceptible to such crude entertainment. It is clear from the research that the participants are exploited, because producers edit what they want you to see, when sex and obscenities is the shows content, that is exploitation to us, the viewers. The producers have taken advantage of a growing interest in these shows to show vile behaviour, in prime time slots. Allowing it to go on incessantly is going to give way to further, immoral entertainment. They have to bring in new shock tactics to keep ahead in the ratings wars. So if all these obscenities don`t shock us enough anymore, what happens next? We can only dread to think of the content that could soon enough be "gracing` our screens because the viewers have actually become immune to these profanities.
Now we are immune, how will those 2-11 year olds realise what is acceptable in public, when all they are shown is undesirable public behaviour? This is why I feel the viewers are exploited. These shows are cheap to run, with no real challenge for the broadcast channels, yet they have the audacity to take advantage of this low budget and allow indecent behaviour into families` houses?
Channel 5 has already given reference to bestiality, thankfully they have realised this is crossing the line and have put an end to it. We can only hope other channels will eventually do the same.