Where Voyeurism and Reality TV Meet
Breaking News: The cast of mob wives are involved in a heated dispute. Natalie Guercio viciously referred to Karen Gravano as a rat and Big Ang is going head to head with Renee. I know—you can’t believe it. Neither could I. After all, weren’t the stars of VH1’s hit reality series irrevocably connected by their similar “mobster” lifestyles?
If you have no idea who any of the aforementioned people are, you should stop what you’re doing and dabble in pop culture. Or maybe you were just wise enough to avoid falling victim to the reality show fixation. Whatever the case may be, tuning in to the latest “crisis” of favorite reality stars each week undoubtedly fascinates Americans. We acquire a sense of satisfaction from being sheer spectators in the outlandish lives of people who we know nothing about.
Prearranged scenes, consisting of harsh words exchanged between—previously anonymous—well-to-do women, have seemingly monopolized cable television. VH1’s Mob Wives is one example, among many, that exemplifies this innate desire to watch reality stars let loose in front of the camera.
Why, as human beings, do we revel in being voyeurs in the lives of D-list celebrities, keeping up-to-date on their often uncouth and irrational behavior? Why are we compelled by the exploitation of lives that we have and will never be emotionally or tangibly linked to?
It is unmistakable that we are drawn to the convergence of what is real and what is not, what we wish to say and do, but refrain from doing. Stars of reality television act as our channel into an existence we may not want to live, but perhaps a part of us would like to experience for a fleeting moment. They lack the inhibitions we cautiously manifest—engaging in bitter arguments, speaking without thinking twice, oddly flaunting their personal misfortunes for all of America to see.
Age of Reality TV
Viewers of reality TV derive enjoyment from the pervasive dysfunction that is required of reality stars to be “successful” and maintain viewership. It is an opportunity to compare our sometimes mundane, yet stable existences to those of people that are rife with disorder, confusion, and the occasional bankruptcy. A transient hour of Bravo’s The Real Housewives or VH1’s alternative ‘docu-soap’ Love & Hip-Hop provides an opportunity to escape from the challenges and stresses present in our own daily lives and seek comfort in the thoughtlessness of lives not our own. We smirk when vengeful schemes backfire and roar with laughter when hair extensions are savagely pulled out. But while reality performers get paid for their appalling behavior, is there a glaring cost for reality viewers?
Have we consciously chosen to neglect the more important issues of today? Are we disillusioned by reality television, so much so that we overlook the concerns that plague our nation? Does the problem exist in our citizenry’s unwillingness to more closely examine policies that give rise to issues of inequality and social injustice? Perhaps we are bombarded with television that is meant to distract—sending a misleading message that suggests the goings-on in extraneous peoples’ lives are more consequential than the goings-on of our country’s political and economic landscape.