This House believes reality television does more harm than good

Reality television has become very popular over the past decade with shows such as "Survivor", "Big Brother" and "The Apprentice" attracting big audiences and making a lot of money for broadcasters worldwide. A definition of reality television is quite difficult but at its most basic it means programmes that show things really taking place, rather than drama or comedy that follows a script. Typically reality TV involves a group of people who are not trained actors being filmed in unusual situations over a period of time. Sport and news programmes are not considered reality TV. Documentaries that explore aspects of society are a grey area, with some closer to news reporting and others blurring into reality TV because they set up situations which did not already exist. Recently celebrity versions of reality shows have made definition even harder, because they show the private lives of professional singers, actors, sportspeople, etc. as they cope with new situations. Reality TV is often a hot topic as proponents believe it paints an unrealistic and inappropriate portrait and is therefore bad for our society and the children that make up the majority of the audience. They call for a cut in the number of hours given over to reality programmes, or even to ban them completely. Opponents meanwhile maintain that people should be allowed to watch what they like, and that reality programmes make good TV, as shown by consistently high viewer figures.

Title 
The sheer number of reality programmes is now driving TV producers to create filthier, more corrupt reality shows
Point 

Reality TV is actually getting worse as the audience becomes more and more used to the genre. In a search for ratings and media coverage, shows are becoming ever more vulgar and offensive, trying to find new ways to shock. When the British Big Brother was struggling for viewers in 2003, its producers responded by attempting to shock the audience that little bit more1. "Big Brother" programmes have also shown men and women having sex on live TV in a desperate grab higher ratings to justify their continued existence. Others have involved fights and racist bullying. Do we let things continue until someone has to die on TV to boost the ratings?

When reality is "constructed" then it substitutes the "natural" reality. This in turn has adverse effect on the natural growth of the children who are either actively involved into it or as audience become a passive recepient. We therefore in a pursuit of commercialization are taking away an inalienable right of children i.e. full personality development in a natural environment which is not contaminated by "constructed" reality.

Humphrys, J. (2004, August 28). Take this oath: First, do no harm. Retrieved July 4, 2011, from The Guardian:

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Counterpoint 

Reality shows are not becoming more corrupt or more filthy. What has changed is rather what the public defines as acceptable viewing. In other words, the gap between what is actually real and what is presented as reality is closing thanks to modern reality programs. And the gap is closing due to popular demand to see reality on their TV screens. For example, the sex shown on Scandinavian episodes of Big Brother is not shocking or unrealistic, it is only unusual in the context of what we expect to see on television. The fact it was shown only illustrates that the gap between what is actually real and what is presented as reality on television is closing. If the proposition has an issue therefore with what modern reality shows are presenting, they have an issue with society at large, not reality programs.
Even if were the case that reality programmes are getting more corrupt and filthy, viewers should take the advice of former U.S. President Bush Jr. and 'put the off button on.' 

Title 
Reality TV encourages people to pursue celebrity status, and discourages the value of hard work and an education
Point 

Reality shows send a bad message and help to create a cult of instant celebrity. They are typically built about shameless self-promotion, based on humiliating others and harming relationships for the entertainment of each other and the viewers at home. These programmes suggest that anyone can become famous just by getting on TV and "being themselves", without working hard or having any particular talent. Kids who watch these shows will get the idea that they don't need to study hard in school, or train hard for a regular job. As John Humphrys points out, 'we tell kids what matters is being a celebrity and we wonder why some behave the way they do' 1 As American lawyer Lisa Bloom fears, 'addiction to celebrity culture is creating a generation of dumbed-down women.'2 Reality shows encourage such addictions and promote the generally misguided belief that they should aspire to be the reality stars they watch on their televisions.
Humphrys, J. (2004, August 28). Take this oath: First, do no harm. Retrieved July 4, 2011, from The Guardian:
Becker, A. (2003, March 1). Hot or Not: Reality TV can be harmful to women. Retrieved July 4, 2011, from Pyschology Today

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Counterpoint 

Reality TV does not discourage hard work or education, rather it creates a society whereby we have shared experiences and a strong sense of community. As such, reality TV provides an important social glue. Once upon a time there were only a few television channels, and everybody watched the same few programmes. The sense of a shared experience helped to bind people together, giving them common things to talk about at work and school the next day – “water cooler moments”. Reality programs like ‘Survivor’ play that role in contemporary society with viewership being ‘almost a cultural imperative’, the experience shared simultaneously with friends and family.1 

Furthermore, even if it were the case that the moral lessons of reality programmes are not always advisable, just as viewers can empathize with characters in the Godfather without wanting to be them, the same applies to questionable characters and actions in reality shows.2 

Sanneh, K. (2011, May 9). The Reality Principle. Retrieved July 4, 2011, from The New Yorker

Poniewozik, J. (2003) All the News That Fits Your Reality Retrieved July 4, 2011, from TIME MAGAZINE

Title 
Reality shows make for bad, lazy and corrupting television, encouraging such behaviour in society
Point 

Reality shows are bad, lazy and corrupting television. They mostly show ordinary people with no special talents doing very little. If they have to sing or dance, then they do it badly – which doesn’t make for good entertainment. They rely on humiliation and conflict to create excitement. Joe Millionaire, where a group of women competed for the affections of a construction worker who they were told was a millionaire, was simply cruel. The emotions of the contestants were considered expendable for the sake of making viewers laugh at their ignorance. Furthermore, the programmes are full of swearing, crying and argument, and often violence, drunkenness and sex. This sends a message to people that this is normal behaviour and helps to create a crude, selfish society.  One American reality show, “Are You Hot?”, in which competitors submit to a panel of judges for ‘appearance-rating’, was blamed by eating disorder experts as encouraging the notion that ‘appearance is the most important thing’ (Becker, 2003).1 Furthermore, Paul Watson, a former reality TV show producer, believes they are ‘predictable and just creates more of the same and makes our film makers lazy’ (Jury, 2007).

Becker, A. (2003, March 1). Hot or Not: Reality TV can be harmful to women.Retrieved July 4, 2011, from Pyschology Today

Jury, L. (2007, January 4). The Big Question: Has reality television had its day, or are audiences still attracted to it? Retrieved July 4, 2011, from The Independent

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Counterpoint 

Reality TV programmes are not corrupting. They do reflect our society, which isn't always perfect, but we should face up to these issues rather than censor television in order to hide them. When Adam Lambert, an openly gay contestant on American Idol, lost in the final of the show despite being widely regarded as the best singer, many rightfully pointed out what it demonstrated about the homophobia of American society. To deride reality shows as 'corrupting' therefore is misguided; it is society who is corrupt and reality shows that offer a potential solution. To solve a problem first requires accepting one exists, and reality shows provide a means to do that; they are a window into society, permitting everyone to reflect on the issues that are most harmful to society. As such, reality show producers should not be accused of a lack of creativity or laziness for their programmes, but congratulated for drawing attention to important issues.

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Title 
Reality shows are not 'real', therefore they have no education value
Point 

Reality TV is dishonest – it pretends to show “reality” but it actually distorts the truth to suit the programme makers. The shows are not really “real” – they are carefully cast to get a mix of “characters” who are not at all typical. Mostly they show a bunch of young, good-looking self-publicists, who will do anything to get on TV. Usually the programme makers try to ensure excitement by picking people who are likely to clash with each other. They then place them in unnatural situations, such as the Big Brother house or the Survivor island, and give them strange challenges in order to provoke them into behaving oddly. In The Bachelor, where a group of women compete for the affections of an eligible male, the ‘intimate dates’ they go on are filmed in front of any number of camera; that is not reality (Poniewozik, 2003).1 Finally the makers film their victims for hundreds of hours from all angles, but only show the most dramatic parts. Selective editing may be used to create “storylines” and so further manipulate the truth of what happened.

Poniewozik, J. (2003) All the News That Fits Your Reality Retrieved July 4, 2011, from TIME MAGAZINE

Counterpoint 

Reality shows are real; they are real people operating without scripts and often, live. The fact that characters are often cast to encourage disagreements or tension does not take away from the reality of the program, in fact it only adds to it. The unrealistic settings of shows like Big Brother and Survivor do not take away from the educational value of observing how they cope. In fact, without such shows, most people would have little concept of how a group of strangers would be able to survive, co-operate and develop in such environments. As Time describes, 'they provoke, they offend but at least it's trying to do something besides help you get to sleep'. The insight therefore into the human condition is invaluable, and it is little surprise that viewers are eager to watch such programs. What is real is not always the same as what is normal, the events on Survivor Island are no less real for being in an unrealistic setting.

 

Title 
Reality television is popular and TV producers should give audiences what they want
Point 

Reality television programmes are very popular with audiences of all ages and types. They may not be high culture but most people do not want that from television. Most viewers want to be entertained and to escape for a while from the worries and boredom of their everyday life. American Idol rejectees who stubbornly insist that they have talent provide such escapism.[1] Furthermore, and importantly, such contestants are good natured in doing so, they are not exploited but offer themselves to reality shows.[2]Therefore, there is no harm in giving the people what they want – that is what the free market is all about. Reality shows are also popular because they exploit new technology so that millions of people can participate in the programme – typically by voting. Britain is believed to have had as many as 176 reality TV shows in a single year.[3] Such supply can only be driven by excessive demand.

[1] Poniewozik, James. “Why Reality TV is Good for Us.” 12 February 2003. Time. 5 July 2011.

[2] Poniewozik, James. “Why Reality TV is Good for Us.” 12 February 2003. Time. 5 July 2011.

[3] Jury, Louise. “The Big Question: Has reality television had its day, or are audiences still attracted to it?” 4 January 2007. The Independent. 4 July 2011.

Counterpoint 

Reality television is not what audiences want, it is watched simply because it is ‘there’. It is what John Humphrys calls ‘carbohydrate television’, it ‘probably hasn’t done you much harm and if it leaves you feeling a bit bloated…well you can search out of a bit of quality stuff’.[1] With tens of television channels and twenty-four hours of programming to fill, reality is simply a cheap means to ensure there is always something on TV to watch. In Italy, the evidence supports such claims, with the state broadcaster Rai deciding to scrap reality programmes in 2008 due to low demand.[2] As Rai’s President stated, ‘I don’t believe they are the type of shows the majority of our viewers expect or want from a public service broadcaster’.[3]

[1] Humphrys, John. “Take this oath: First, do no harm.” 28 August 2004. The Guardian. 4 July 2011.

[2] Fraser, Christian. “Italian TV bins reality shows.” 3 April 2007. BBC News. 4 July 2011.

[3] Fraser, Christian. “Italian TV bins reality shows.” 3 April 2007. BBC News. 4 July 2011.

 

Title 
Reality TV can be educational and have real effects in society in a way other television programmes do not
Point 

Reality TV can be very educational. They educate people by displaying disastrous consequences of someone's behaviour, thus deterring others from doing unplanned and silly actions. Programmes such as "The Apprentice" have made people think about business. Jamie Oliver has raised issues of youth unemployment and poor diet, and "Fit Club" has got people thinking about health and fitness. Jamie Oliver's inaugural reality show, 'Jamie's Kitchen', offered jobless youngsters the 'chance to train and lead a nationwide campaign to improve the quality of school meals'1. Without the TV show's popularity funding the initiative, the youngsters involved would not have had such an opportunity and school meals would still reflect what kids want to eat, not what they should be eating. Such effects on society are beneficial and should be encouraged, not restricted.
Jury, L. (2007, January 4). The Big Question: Has reality television had its day, or are audiences still attracted to it? Retrieved July 4, 2011, from The Independent

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Counterpoint 

The few reality TV programmes that are educational and beneficial do not balance the bad majority. The majority are not educational, either to the public or the participants, and the insight they purport to offer into the human psyche are misguided. As Vanessa Feltz, a contestant on the British Big Brother series, describes, contestants and viewers alike 'subscribe to this utterly specious notion that fame is entirely desirable' (BBC News, 2001), whilst Narinda Kaur, another contestant on the show, admitted "I came away from this experience thinking 'oh my God, did I really say that?" (BBC News, 2001). As Claudio Petruccioli, head of the Italian state broadcaster Rai, notes, 'reality TV shows put people into environments that are both unrealistic and coercive'1 Any lessons learned are therefore inapplicable to real-world situations.
Fraser, C. (2007, April 3). Italian TV bins reality shows. Retrieved July 4, 2011, from BBC News:

Title 
The public can always just turn reality programmes off, or watch something else
Point 

Television provides a wide mixture of programmes, including reality television. For those who want it, there is high quality drama such as "The Sopranos" or "Pride and Prejudice" whilst the BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera and other international broadcasters also cover news and current affairs in great depth. Wildlife programmes on the National Geographic or Discovery bring the wonders of the natural world into our living rooms. More sports are covered in more detail than ever before. So, ultimately, reality shows have not ruined television as a whole, they have merely added another option for viewers. Indeed, because they make a lot of money for broadcasters to spend on other types of programmes, they are actually good for all viewers, regardless of personal taste for genres.

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Counterpoint 

Reality shows are driving out other sorts of programmes, so that often there is nothing else to watch. Reality TV is cheap and series can go on for months on end, providing hundreds of hours of viewing to fill schedules. TV bosses like this and are cutting back on comedy, music, drama and current affairs in favour of wall to wall reality rubbish. This is even worse when reality shows crowd the schedules of public service broadcasters. Stations such as the BBC in the UK, France Télévisions, or Rai in Italy have a duty to inform and educate the public. They should be made to meet that responsibility – as Rai has by saying it won’t have any more reality shows.

Title 
Reality television forces us to analyse our own behaviour as a society
Point 

Reality TV actually has a lot of value to our society; they are effectively anthropological experiments, allowing the public to study people and societies from the comfort of their living rooms1. Humans are endlessly different and endlessly interesting to other humans. In these programmes we see people like us faced with unusual situations. Shows like Survivor, which place a group of strangers in remote environments, make us think about what we would do in their place, and about what principles govern human behaviour in general. It also shows us people who look and act very different from us, and helps us see that actually we have a lot in common with them. MTV's reality show 'Making the Band 2', a 'hip-hop American Idol', gives centre stage to inner-city kids who would be portrayed as criminals or victims on a cop drama. There is nothing immoral about reality shows, merely the society which demands them; these shows are just a product of our values and desires. We should face up to these issues rather than censor television in order to hide them.
Sanneh, K. (2011, May 9). The Reality Principle. Retrieved July 4, 2011, from The New Yorker

Counterpoint 

Reality TV is less about exposing society and allowing us to evaluate our own behaviour than it is about 're-inforcing particular social norms'1. As such, it is deliberately misleading. If it is portrayed as being real, it implies authenticity and honesty, two things that most reality TV programmes are not. They serve not to challenge our views of society, but reinforce the often false notions we already collectively hold. For example, the US reality show "Are You Hot?" asks competitors to submit to appearance-rating by judges, only re-inforcing the false premise that one is defined solely by the way they look2. Furthermore, even if accepted that reality shows do present a 'real' image of society, programmes like Big Brother and Survivor erode the distinction between public and private, turning 'people with real lives and real problems and real children (into) entertainment'3. Society's entertainment cannot be allowed to come at the expense of the privacy that protects families and children.
Sanneh, K. (2011, May 9). The Reality Principle. Retrieved July 4, 2011, from The New Yorker
Becker, A. (2003, March 1). Hot or Not: Reality TV can be harmful to women. Retrieved July 4, 2011, from Pyschology Today 
Humphrys, J. (2004, August 28). Take this oath: First, do no harm. Retrieved July 4, 2011, from The Guardian:

Bibliography 

BBC News. “Reality TV under fire.” 27 August 2001. BBC News. 5 July 2011. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/1511775.stm

Becker, Anne. “Hot or Not: Reality TV can be harmful to women.” 1 March 2003. Pyschology Today. 4 July 2011. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200303/hot-or-not-reality-tv-can...

Bentley, Paul. “Celebrity culture 'is making educated women dim-witted'.” 16 June 2011. Daily Mail. 4 July 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2004072/Celebrity-culture-making...

CNN. “Is reality TV a truly bad thing?” 10 January 2003. CNN Politics. 5 July 2011. http://articles.cnn.com/2003-01-10/politics/cf.opinion.reality.tv_1_tapi...

Fraser, Christian. “Italian TV bins reality shows.” 3 April 2007. BBC News. 4 July 2011. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/6519209.stm

Humphrys, John. “Take this oath: First, do no harm.” 28 August 2004. The Guardian. 4 July 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2004/aug/28/television.realitytv

Jury, Louise. “The Big Question: Has reality television had its day, or are audiences still attracted to it?” 4 January 2007. The Independent. 4 July 2011. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/the-big-question-has-reality-tel...

Poniewozik, James. “Why Reality TV is Good for Us.” 12 February 2003. Time. 5 July 2011. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,421047,00.html

Sanneh, Kelefa. “The Reality Principle.” 9 May 2011. The New Yorker. 4 July 2011. http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2011/05/09/110509crat_atla...

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