In many ways, a generation is judged by the T.V. shows it advances.The easygoing ’70s ushered in a wave of political activism, boasting shows with underlying messages like M*A*S*H. This was closely followed by the wholesome air of the ’80s, characterized by shows like Cheers and The Brady Bunch.
The ’90s followed with an uplifting comedy streak, sparking classic favourites like Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Friends, and creating memorable characters like the haphazard Steve Urkel and the dreamy Brandon Walsh of 90210.
These shows, succeeded by the new millennium’s craze for reality television, gave way to shows like Jersey Shore, Laguna Beach and the infamous Jon and Kate Plus 8—a show chronicling the lives of an American couple and their eight kids. In turn, these shows have created a Big Brother-like obsession in 21st century television—so prominent, in fact, that industry professionals created a show in its honour.
The shows we’re familiar with today no doubt deliver their promised entertainment value and our daily dose of celebrity pseudo-drama, but I often wonder about the volumes they will speak of our generation.
These shows are a sort of guilty pleasure—yet, as more and more of them air, they become widely unexpected hits. I am not advocating nostalgia or the lost value of television, nor do I want to moralize about the naïveté society has been said to lose.
But I do wonder what this trend, like any trend, means for society.
These shows revolutionized television. They took the creative power from men with typewriters and democratized it. Celebrity now belongs to people who could previously only idolize stars.
The ideas of hidden values—good or bad—and the purposeful creativity applied to developing plots, three-dimensional characters and comedic cues are significantly lessening. Viewers are given the power to draw their own values and laugh without audience cues.
It’s also interesting to look at the alleged truth-values of these shows. These reality TV shows, supposed to stream truthful, unscripted occurrences, have often been proven, to do just the opposite.
The reality of television, it seems, isn’t as dispensable as we think. When we’re clicking the remote to find the latest episode of The Real World: Brooklyn, we’re expecting real characters, unscripted events and uncharted territory. But television is rarely so candid.
Reality shows can be seen as a wider social occurrence, a constant need for connection with the lives of strangers.
In an unprecedented age of technology, politics, arts and entertainment, it seems we can orchestrate a choose-your-own-adventure of the reality we want to believe. This says something crucial about our need for reality—and maybe our need for an alternate reality.
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