In keeping with researchers' proclivity for telling us what we already suspect, in October the Girl Scout Research Institute released results of a survey about the effects of reality TV on tween and teen girls. Their research found that "tween and teen girls who regularly view reality TV accept and expect a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their own lives, and measure their worth primarily by their physical appearance."
For anyone familiar with "reality" TV, this should come as no surprise. It is one of the great ironies of our age that one of the communication media least committed to truth is so committed to "reality." So-called reality TV has become a staple of the media diet for Americans—and other places around the world. These shows began proliferating in the 1990s and exploded over the last decade. And with them have come a host of celebrities who are famous simply for being famous.
So what's the appeal? Why do so many people love watching reality TV? Theories abound. We know we're a curious species and a social one; perhaps the opportunity to peek into the lives of other people is just too much to resist. Perhaps it's simply amusing to watch caricatures that remind us of ourselves and people we know. It can be cathartic to see people behave in ways we know we're capable of behaving but we're too polite to act on. Maybe it's the thrill of vicarious experience—entering into fantasy worlds that seem real without leaving our comfortable sofas. And perhaps we feel better about our own lives when we watch the train wrecks unfolding in New Jersey, in the suburbs of Atlanta, or on an island somewhere.1