Reality Addiction, Hoarders, and My 600-lb Life, reality TV

            Reality television is an addicting
phenomenon that graces millions of televisions daily. From shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Life of
Kylie, and Love and Hip Hop to
series like My Strange Addiction,
Hoarders, and My 600-lb Life,
reality TV has left its mark and impacted today’s society in more ways than
one. It has slithered into mass media to dominate lives and focus on “real”
events or situations that have long term effects on its viewers. This brand of
television serves as a reflection of society and often exploits its
participants if not glamorizes a certain lifestyle that may seem unattainable
to its viewers.  For example, the
Kardashians represent success and the achievement of the American dream that, to
many, is elusive. Through the dramatization of mental illness, Hoarders
exploits its viewers and reinforces the perception of these people as outsiders
which lead to further marginalization and hiding of hoarding behavior.

            Shows that look down on and
criticize certain lifestyles, such as Hoarders,
function as a cautionary story and is put out to the public as a warning of how
not to live. “Lifestyle-themed programs are also connected to broader
campaigns, orchestrated by private and public “partners” to promote desired
behaviors such as delayed parenting and healthy eating” (Oullette).  With this program, A tends to
sensationalize these people and sends the message to its audience that this
behavior is monstrous and should be avoided at all costs. A chooses to
dramatize the manifestation of hoarding as opposed to using the platform to get
to the root of hoarding for both the viewers and the hoarders themselves. Although
some episodes are less offensive than others, Hoarders exploits its subjects and interferes with the viewer’s
potential for empathy. “The “ordinary celebrity” promised by television, and
the incitement to “perform the real” for ratings, accentuates these
possibilities and constraints, and raises important questions about whether
ordinary people are empowered or exploited through nonfiction and reality
programming” (Oullette). Instead of encouraging proper treatment it presents
hoarding as something that is impossible to relate to and rather than
sympathize, viewers are meant to feel sorry for the hoarders but not understand
the disorder. Through pressure and coercion, they “clean out” a hoarded home in
less than a week which needle away at the audience for emotional reactions. The
show does not promote the idea of long-term cognitive behavior therapy to help
people change the nature of their attachment to possessions, but instead clears
a house of clutter which in the long run will not stop hoarding impulses.

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            On the other end of the spectrum,
there are shows that depict money as the ultimate form of success, whether it
is the ability to own homes, buy products, or send kids to expensive schools.

Because Americans are focused on a consumerist culture and material goods,
audiences buy into shows such as Keeping
Up with the Kardashians or Life of
Kylie.  Reality television is used as
a tool to draw viewers in and bait them with ads and commercials to keep them
locked into this consumerist lifestyle. Life
of Kylie sells viewers across the world a lifestyle that very few can
afford by marketing it as the American Dream. “The lifestyling of television
encompasses a spate of reality entertainment built around the lives – and
distinctive lifestyles – of aspirational and exoticized “others”, including
tabloid celebrities, upscale housewives, rich kids ….” (Oullette). Reality
television shows depict the lives of high class, rich, individuals who thrive off
materialistic items, drama, and fame. “The invitation to fashion ourselves and
estheticize and manage our everyday lives involves pleasure and agency, but it
has also become an imperative that flattens the politics of difference and contributes
to the idea that we can all be who we choose to be. Television perpetuates this
imperative buy suggesting that anyone can achieve the “good life” if they
follow the guidance of experts, participate in the right brand cultures and are
self-enterprising” (Oullette). Viewers allow programs like this to determine
“reality” for them and makes audiences feel that buying expensive items will
give them satisfaction and fame thus fueling ideas surrounding consumerism.  Shows like Life
of Kylie encourage young people to participate in consumerism by bombarding
them with images  of luxury, whereas,
programs similar to Hoarders condemn
people for living amongst their personal belongings while simultaneously
encouraging them through commercials and paid programming to buy more things. “The
expansion of cable and satellite channels geared to niche audiences= and
specialized lifestyle clusters links self-making to a consumerist sense of
community and belonging. This programming sells tangible goods and services –
but it also provides a cultural platform for constructing less obvious brands
of lifestyle based on symbolic meanings. In this sense, the lifestyling of
television is connected to new ways of generating profit in postindustrial
capitalist societies” (Oullette). There is an abundance of reality television
shows that laud crass behavior and glorifies abuse while promoting unhealthy
relationships that elevate shallow personalities. This type of programming airs
moments that were once considered private and takes multiple steps to demolish
the walls of privacy. By witnessing the most vulnerable moments of people’s
lives, audiences are forced to become voyeurs who feed on the misery, problems,
and emotions of others. The satisfaction that voyeurism brings to audiences
serve as a form of both distraction and amusement.

            Despite the negative influence
multiple reality television shows have on society and the viewers that consume
such content, it serves as an escape from reality. The profitability and
popularity of reality television has reshaped media and the way audience
receives the information put out to them. This genre fulfills the needs of
surveillance, personal identity, personal relationships, and escapism. These
types of programs give viewers the ability to analyze the behavior of others
either to understand themselves or make them feel better about their own lives.

Aside from a chance to escape reality, some audience members enjoy the
consumption of shows like Hoarders
because of the feeling of superiority it gives them. Ironic consumers gain
pleasure from making fun of the participants in these shows. They watch reality
television from an emotional distance without feeling connected to the
characters or caring about their fates. Because of this detached viewing, this
perspective gives them the feeling of superiority not only over the
participants of the show but of its conventional viewers as well. Most viewers
who enjoy such programs classify it as their guilty pleasure, indicating that what
they are consuming is low-brow, contemporary, television.  “When TV viewers characterize an unscripted
show as a “guilty pleasure,” they are acknowledging its questionable value”
(Oullette). The use of the term guilty pleasure acknowledges the guilt of
watching and supporting a show that degrades society.

            Television provides the ideal
platform for emotion to be used as a powerful tool to engage audiences across
the world. Emotional engagement is one of the most vital components in the enjoyment
of the viewer and without some form of emotional involvement it’ll be difficult
for the audience to enjoy the content. The communal experience of television
and the social environment in which reality television is watched is what fuels
emotion. Audiences watch this type of television in groups whether it is with
family or friends, and with the use of social media interaction the group only
grows. These programs are constructed to manipulate emotions only to reveal
that things may not be as it seems. The appeal of reality television is rooted
in the less orchestrated events making it seem more real. Television viewers
enjoy the idea of having access and the ability to tweet at any celebrity or
interacting with a real person that is not bound by a script. With their real
lives in the public eye, those that are on reality television shows draw
emotion from the audience keeping the audience locked in with a feeling of
obligation to continue watching the show.