Reality TV Virtually a Habit

Jo Frost stars as Supernanny Jo Frost on the ABC Television Network's "Supernanny." (screengrab from ABC Web site)
Jo Frost stars as Supernanny Jo Frost on the ABC Television Network's "Supernanny." (screengrab from ABC Web site)

By Juliana Sesay
UJWSILVER SPRING, Md. – Everywhere you turn, there is a new reality series popping up on television.

If the trials of aspiring chefs tickle your fancy, all you have to do is flip to FOX 5’s Hell’s Kitchen. On ABC, you can watch British women transform stubborn and unruly children into obedient little kids on Supernanny. Or perhaps, the saga of a group of young adults living together is your ideal TV show.

Whatever it may be, more and more teens seem to be sucked into the world of reality TV. So, why is this? What exactly is it about these shows that draws teens in and keeps them coming back for more?

For Miatta Leigh, a senior at Blake High School in Silver Spring, Md., the high-energy drama on these shows is the main attraction.

“I love it!” she said, “That’s the whole reason why I like it. The drama. It’s funny watching people make fools of themselves on TV.”

Diana Anguh, a junior who also attends Blake High School, enjoys The Gauntlet, a show on MTV, and says it’s her favorite reality show.

“It’s so interesting because it’s a competition. There’s backstabbing, alliances, hook-ups, break ups. It s just the kind of show that gets the blood pumping,” she said, laughing.

Occasionally, reality television fans become so caught up in the drama that they actually want to be the characters of the show.

Said Leigh, of the MTV reality series, The City: “I felt Whitney didn’t handle the situation right when Olivia took credit for her work. I wanted to go in the TV and handle the girl.” She laughed as she candidly recalled the anecdote.

Reality TV fans like Leigh and Anguh acknowledge that they don’t watch these shows for the quality of the acting or intelligence level, but, nevertheless, they can’t seem to pull themselves away.

“Sometimes, I think it’s ridiculous,” said Anguh. “It’s like, I should be living my own life instead of watching theirs but it’s just addicting. It’s hard not to watch.”

Blake High School junior Rachel Appel, a fan of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, looks at the reality TV situation from a different angle. “Yeah, it gives a bad name to our society, that that’s the kind of shows that we watch,” she said.

Appel said she avoids shows like Next and Date My Mom on MTV because she finds them “kind of trashy.”

Although reality TV watchers find themselves keeping up with a variety of series and anticipating new episodes, many don’t feel they will be negatively affected if all reality shows were to be cancelled.

“I think I would actually be glad,” said Appel. “I think it would make our society not seem so pathetic that we like to watch people act like that.”

Leigh, a big fan of the ABC soap opera General Hospital, does not think she’s attached to reality television and says, “I have other shows to watch that are not reality shows.”

But what do reality TV opponents have to say about the popular television genre?

Beth Brown, a senior at Blake High School, used to watch shows like MTV’s Road Rules and VH1’s Surreal Life during the summer.

“But then I realized that they weren’t very interesting,” she said. “The shows had no relevance to my life whatsoever and I realized that I could be doing much more interesting things with my time.”

She is aware of their addictive effect and tries to steer clear of them.

“You get kind of sucked into it. It’s hard to say no once you’re invested in it,” she said.

Brown also provided her own personal insight into why many of her peers seem to be caught in the hold of reality television.

“It makes them feel better about their own life,” she said. “It makes them feel that since celebrities do such boring things, then maybe they can be a celebrity too.”


Founded in 1975, the Washington Association of Black Journalists is an organization of Black journalists, journalism professors, public relations professionals and student journalists in the D.C., metro area. WABJ provides members with ongoing professional education opportunities and advocates for greater diversification of the profession.