Reality TV transcends fad status

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W hat is this obsession we have with reality TV? Why must we watch poor helpless fools eat cockroaches or be ridiculed on national television, all for the sake of cash and/or their 15 minutes of fame? It’s certainly “television,” but is this reality? Is it even entertainment?

Apparently, and perhaps unfortunately, it’s both. RTV has overstayed its welcome, and has become both redundant and annoying. RTV’s sole purpose has developed into the humiliation and degradation of people for the sake of big ratings. “American Idol,” now on as many as three times a week, typically holds two of the three top spots in the Nielsen ratings, beating out scripted shows like “Desperate Housewives,” and award shows like the Grammy’s, proving that fans still tune in to see Simon the Grouch put down another well-trained William Hung week after week.

When the reality phenomenon started a few years ago, people used to wonder what it was exactly and how long it would be around. People were interested by the novelty of new shows like “Survivor.”

By my count, there are close to one million RTV shows listed in the TV Guide from week to week. Some of them are knock-offs, some of them are spin-offs, and even Spanish-language television, which could have genuinely been considered the last of independent television, is jumping on the bandwagon. So please excuse my exaggeration, but there is just no way to accurately determine how many reality programs have infested our televisions. Before we finished counting, another would have already popped up.

Many spin-offs simply don’t work for regular television shows (does anybody remember “Saved By The Bell: The College Years?”), so why is there so much reliance on them? Because they work. “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” a spin-off, appears in the top ratings more than once each week. “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart” will be premiering alongside its Donald-counterpart later this year.

Then there are the knock-offs, which are basically the same show with a different name and on a different network, all competing against each other for the same viewers. Since these shows are essentially the same as one another, they try to single themselves out from the crowd. “Trading Spouses” brought in a lesbian couple, and “Super Nanny” brought in a miracle-working Brit.

But worse of all, RTV has taken over channels that used to be devoted to completely separate realms of television. Both MTV and VH1 are playing out this fad to the best of their abilities. Every week, VH1 devotes an entire Sunday night to a block of reality programming centered on celebrities degrading themselves quite openly by playing house, trying to lose weight, and attempting to exist in “normal” relationships.

There are those people, namely the creators and executive producers of the show, who think “The Real World” started the reality trend, but lately, MTV has indeed become the center of reality television.

And as pointless as these shows may seem, they are, in fact, brainwashing and addicting. I personally cannot stop watching them, as much as that may scare me.

Take MTV’s “My Super Sweet 16” for example, which features snobby rich girls trying to figure out which revealing outfit to wear to their own stranger-filled party. The show is undoubtedly moronic, yet fascinating. “Newlyweds” and “The Ashlee Simpson Show” are no different. For whatever reason, I cannot come to my senses and turn off the nonsense. Instead, I stare at the screen, mouth agape, dribble coming down my chin.

But then I remember the cheaper nature of RTV and I am brought back to the cold actuality of how much I don’t understand it.

The most damning evidence that RTV has taken over the world is that Spanish-language television has joined in the movement. That’s right folks, shows like “Gana La Verde” (Win the Green) and “Objetivo Fama” (Object Fame: think “American Idol” in Spanish) have infected the Spanish airwaves. “Gana La Verde,” a “Fear Factor”-esque show, which features young adults put through grueling tests for the chance to win a green card, is particularly degrading. The contestants must complete three particularly shameful tasks for, as it turns out, nothing. Apparently, the winner doesn’t get a green card straight away, and instead, the show hires lawyers to defend them in court during normal immigration proceedings.

I just can’t seem to comprehend what it is about Reality TV that intrigues the masses so much. What is it about them that has us glued to the television like brainwashed zombies? It has gotten to a point where it is completely ubiquitous and predictable. Everywhere you turn, there is an advertisement for the next big on-the-nose reality show. Some are so degrading that they shouldn’t even be on the air, and some are just incoherently stupid, and others are simply irresistible.

Does watching these shows make us cheap sell-outs to a dangerous trend, or a does it make us a normal Americans? Either way, I don’t think we will be seeing the end of this mindless fad anytime soon.

Cindy Von Quednow is a freshman journalism major.