I just don’t understand the fascination with Teen Moms, Hoarders, the Housewives, Jersey Shore and the myriad other sleazy reality shows on TV. The supreme franchise, however, has got to be those Kardashians. Are you kidding me?
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy reality shows where people have talent or have to accomplish something. I never miss the Amazing Race and I record Project Runway rerun marathons. They have the right combination of Shakespearean tragicomedy to teach lessons as well as be entertaining and fun to watch. But, train wrecks stop to watch the Kardashians.
While many early television shows were unscripted and showed people in real situations (Smile, you’re on Candid Camera), the first “reality show” that I remember is An American Family. It aired in 1973 and it documented the life of a typical American family. Unexpected situations such as the separation and divorce of the parents and the coming out of the eldest son created much controversy. Some critics complained that the family members played to the camera while the family said they sometimes didn’t even realize the camera was recording. In any event, An American Family was something never before seen on TV, and it was sociological, educational and tastefully raw.
The Real World, Big Brother, Survivor, American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, Deadliest Catch and other programs showing real people or ex-stars doing something different and/ interesting have large audiences. This is understandable. Although some of the shows have started to decline or get a little too self-indulgent, they still have a point and engage us for many reasons. However, what is the deal with the embarrassing low quality ones? Why is watching someone climb over the piles of garbage and newspapers in her filthy home entertaining?
I suppose Paris Hilton began the new type of reality TV showcasing famous for being famous people. At that time it was probably funny to watch rich “celebrities” doing average things. It was a real life situation comedy. Even the Osbournes in an “I hate to admit it” way was mesmerizing. That was the guy who bit off a bat’s head and whose albums were thrown out by many of my friends’ parents? The Osbournes showed a weird, profane, sometimes (most of the time) stoned family who nevertheless loved each other.
However, the latest crop of reality shows has crossed the line. For the most part, they depict bottom feeders with psychological problems who would do anything for money. It is easy to understand why a 16-year-old pregnant high school drop out would allow herself and her unfortunate child to be used, or why lowlifes from New Jersey would jump on the money train, but the Kardashians are a different story.
The Kardashians are a family of television personalities and publicity hounds. Dad was most notably OJ Simpson’s lawyer and mom (married for over 20 years to Bruce Jenner) is an outstanding businesswoman and the manager of the empire. Besides their reality shows, they have clothing lines, boutiques, perfume, sex tapes and numerous other credits. Their reality shows have been huge hits and the money has allowed them to pursue their various business ventures and celebrity lifestyles. Kim’s wedding (a match made it heaven) cost millions but made millions. Her quickie marriage and divorce have outraged many fans, shocked, I say shocked, by her greed and hypocrisy.
I just don’t understand the fascination or entertainment value. Is television programming giving us what we want to watch or is it creating the audience? If this is what people want, what does that say about us?
Mary Casey is a student in the MS in Business Leadership and Management program at CUNY School of Professional Studies and is an alumna of Lehman College. She is an administrator for a university in NYC. She loves to travel and wants to see as much of the world as possible. Mary has more comments on the SPS blog than she received on the community/political blog that she created and maintained from 2002 to 2004.