We’re reaching a point where reality TV is crossing the line, and programs are unethically invading their contestants’ privacy.
Reality TV stars are expected to indulge viewers in the depths of contestants’ personal lives— their past, their families, work, and everything in between.
From dating shows and going behind the scenes of a multi-billion-dollar empire to prying into the personal lives of vulnerable people, reality TV comes in many different styles.
In the case of the Kardashian-Jenners, reality TV constitutes the bulk of entire careers. The billion-dollar family got their kickstart on reality TV, after Kim Kardashian—who was Paris Hilton’s then-friend and assistant—had her sex tape leaked.
From one spinoff to the next, their presence in the world of reality TV turned their names into a brand, where the family gained their fame and fortune by showcasing their lives for the world to see.
Their show examines the depths of their personal lives, with scenes of the family working, going out to dinner, and in bed. From family fights to vacations in the tropics, watching Keeping up with the Kardashians feels like an actual glimpse into their glamorous lives.
While the show exposes a lot of the family’s personal life, it’s clear the Kardashian-Jenners aren’t victims of exploitation. Their control over filming and production allows them to decide what is and isn’t released. . They’ve made millions of dollars from the show, and have the ease of starting new businesses and accessing other opportunities.
Their wealth and celebrity connections helped them control their image long before they became as famous as they are.
The same could be said for other reality TV shows that center around wealthy socialites, like Selling Sunset or The Real Housewives. While audiences get a glimpse into their daily lives, it’s clear the stars of these shows are seeing growing benefits in return for a carefully cultivated glimpse into their private affairs.
This isn’t true for the less wealthy stars of reality TV. When the more vulnerable are filmed, what seems like entertainment is a form of mockery and pity.
The Learning Channel—also known as TLC—is known for its voyeuristic and exploitative shows. Their hit shows include My 600-lb Life, Hoarders, and more. These shows prey on folks who are desperate for help, luring them in by offering them money or other forms of help they desperately need—whether it be a gastric bypass or professional cleaning services.
With a premise of filming people having mental breakdowns or getting surgery, these shows display the personal struggles of often defenseless individuals only to pay them poorly and put them on display like zoo animals to the entire world.
Love is Blind or The Ultimatum makes a spectacle out of their contestants’ romantic relationships. Love is Blind recently used misleading trailers that made audiences believe contestants Zack and Bliss were getting fertility treatments—a normally intensely private situation.
Showcasing these struggles violates these people’s privacy. While they choose to put their lives on display, they should have more saying what airs. Otherwise, reality TV stars are dehumanized, reduced to spectacles.
I’m not saying indulging in reality TV makes you a monster. Whoever’s idea was to record and broadcast the lives of vulnerable people, likely wasn’t doing so with good intentions.
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