Thursday, April 14, 2011

Values Portrayed on Reality Television

Author: Valancia Gardner, student of Ashford University

Values Portrayed on Reality Television Programs
       Reality television programs have made a huge impact on the present day television.  Viewers enjoy watching the ‘realness’ of actual normal everyday people as oppose to watching actors being paid to act a specific character.   It is the values being portrayed on reality television programs that is often degrading and holds bad morals.  Some reality television programs may provide positive influences, while others’ influences are very negative.  Through research, it is proven that some reality television programs are not worth watching, that is if the viewer believes in good morals, values, and ethics.  Television programs have definitely changed concerning values since the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Reality television is one the main sources of the negative impact on television today and has become overrated and portrays very negative influences.
       Television has been around for as long as many can remember.  It is a technological box full of entertainment.  Through this box, many are able to see different people throughout the world interact with one another, hear news going on throughout the world, tune into sitcoms, comedies, movies, reality shows, and cartoons that expresses different emotions.  There is a saying that television ‘tells a lie to your vision’.  Taking on a broader meaning, television is said to have a major influence on its viewers.  The term ‘influence’ is defined as the ability to produce and effect, or to affect character, beliefs, or actions; person or thing with this (Hawkins, 1981).  Can television influence one’s character, beliefs, or actions?  The 1991 movies, Boys n the Hood and New Jack City, both led to some instances such as shootings immediately after leaving the cinema.  It is said that some of the viewers were intrigued to violent acts after viewing the movies which portrayed gang violence (Berman, 1992).  Clearly, television can have influence over its viewers.
       Reality television has taken a major role in the entertainment world.  Heather Havrilesky (2011), a writer for the Salon Media Group Inc. stated,  “Pundits can tut-tut all they want, but reality shows rule television for a simple reason: The best of them are far more compelling than the worn-out sitcoms and crime dramas the networks keep churning out” (para. 2).  What exactly are the best of the reality shows?  Are the best reality television programs the negative ones or the positive ones?

       What types of values are actually being portrayed on present day reality television programs as opposed to the television programs of the 1980s and 1990s?  In the 1980s and 1990s, families could easily gather around their televisions and watch a broadcasting at ease.  There were not many reality programs that aired in those times.  However, there were a few such as the first well known reality television program, An American Family which aired in 1973.  America’s Funniest Home Videos is another popular television program that falls into the reality television programs due to its submissions of videos showing the mishaps and humorous situations of everyday people. Amongst the few reality television programs that aired in the 80s and 90s, there were television programs and sitcoms such as: I Love Lucy, Family Matters, Full House, Little House on the Prairie, The Andy Griffith Show, Sanford and Son, The Golden Girls, and The Cosby Show.   

These shows demonstrated family values and the values of friendship and love.  A parent could be at ease while a child watched such television programs knowing that values are actually being expressed.  However, what can one learn from watching reality shows such as I Love New York, Flavor of Love, The Bachelor, and the Bad Girls Club?  The Bad Girls Club logo itself has devil horns drawn in it.  Flo, a cast member of the Bad Girls Club made a statement of how she believed the house (the Bad Girls Club house the cast have to live in) has the devil in it.  On this show, if you behave too good, or if you are too positive, you are kicked out of the club.  How is that reality when you clearly have to try your best to behave badly just to be on the show?  Anybody can behave badly.  The questions are: Why should you?  What is the purpose of it all?  Obviously these questions are answered with the term ‘desperation’.  When desperate for fame, money, or whatever the case, some people seem to stoop very low and will do whatever is asked of them to be on television.  New York, the star of I Love New York, openly engaged in sexual acts with a few of the male contestants.  Did she care at all about being viewed as a ‘loose’ woman because she performed these acts on national television?  The bad morally acts do not began with her show however, because when she first starred on Flavor of Love, she had also engaged in sexual acts with Flava Flav.  However, out of all the other women contestants on the Flavor of Love show, it seems that because of New York’s behavior, she was the one chosen to star in her very own show.  So again, the question is: Which reality television programs are considered the best ones?  Why has television come to the state of portraying such negative behaviors?  According to the author Eric Jaffe (2005), “Reality television has been vilified as the lowest form of entertainment, a threat to intelligence, and catering to (and rising from) the most prurient of human instinct” (para. 3).

       What about the future generation, the children?  What can they possibly be learning from all of this nonsense seen on these negative reality television shows?  Mature television programming use to broadcast mainly after dark when children are usually in their beds.  However, negative television programming such as the ones mentioned are now being broadcasted during the daytime.  Even on the radio, songs with profanity use to have a radio edited version that ‘beeps’ out the profanity and obscene words.  However, today a lot of the regular ‘explicit’ versions are being played on radio.  It is as if the world of entertainment has lost its decency and dignity.  Will seeing such negativity on television allow the future generation to make progress, or become slacked?  How can the future generation progress when reality television programs are portraying the idea that one should do ‘whatever’ to get what they want.  Where are the morals and values in that idea?  More than likely, if you teach a boy to disrespect women, he will disrespect women.  If you teach a girl not to respect herself, more than likely she will not have decency.
Children’s perceptions of reality in television are examined as an intervening variable between exposure to the medium and the effect of TV messages.  Findings from previous work an data from schoolchildren in grades 3-6 indicates that: (a) perceptions of the reality of TV increase as the specificity of content increases, (b) interpersonal communication about television is a significant predictor of children’s reality perceptions, and (c) TV usage is positively related to perceptions of reality while age and IQ are negative predictors.  Questions about children’s experiences with real-life counterparts of TV characters were not related to reality perceptions (Greenberg & Reeves, 2010).
       Producers discovered a different audience appetite- a hunger to watch people with no discernable talent, no discernable insights, but who are willing, eager to be seen and heard doing… nothing.  Real Housewives shopping, Girls Behaving Badly on the Jersey Shore. Producers also found audiences eager to watch and participants eager to perform, in situations viewers once laughingly called ‘inappropriate’ (Greenfield, 2010). Fear Factor has contestants to compete for money by completing dares to do disgusting and fearful things such as eating raw cow eyes and pig intestines, or lying amongst a bed full of spiders. Flavor of Love has women competing for Flava Flav whom is clearly not America’s typical ideal bachelor. However, the women contestants have fought over him and some have even given him sexual favors hoping to win his heart. Clearly a lack of values are shown, and once again the term ‘desperation’ comes back to shore.
       According to Dr. Drew Pinsky, a 25-year veteran of radio and television therapy, “The reality is people only watch things that are dramatic.  People are drawn to dysfunctional behaviors, but you have to use that desire to watch it create opportunities to teach” (Greenfield, 2010, para. 24).  It is possible that when seeing such negative behaviors portrayed on reality television, one may feel content and proud that he/she is not making a fool of himself/herself the way the characters on the reality show are.  However, the saying still goes- bad influence spoils useful habits.  Therefore, it is also possible that watching too much negative reality television or negative television in general can have a negative effect on its viewers.
       Marc Marcuse, who appeared on Average Joe in 2003 says, “I think if you eliminated reality TV entirely, they’d be no change.  It’s just a symptom of what people want, good and bad. It just reflects our society, nothing more” (Greenfield, 2010, para. 39).  Indeed good and bad does exist in all parts of this world; therefore, there must be good reality shows as well, right? Yes, there are some very positive reality television programs such as: The Biggest Loser- which helps people who are overweight shed off unhealthy pounds, Dr. 90210- helps and informs viewers of health related issues, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition- helps struggling families by giving them better homes to live in, Plastic Surgery: Before and After- discusses medical issues, Untold Stories of E.R.- tells of real-life emergency situations, and Supernanny- teaches parents how to discipline their misbehaving children in positive ways.  These are clearly the ‘good’ reality television programs. 
       On  Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, for example, TV viewers are ‘activated’ to practice compassionate citizenship by volunteering for nonprofit partners such as Habitat for Humanity and Home Aid (Ouellette, 2010).  Not only do these struggling families being helped on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition get better homes, but they get the homes of their dreams. Each family member is questioned about their likes and dislikes. The house is built around their favorite things. What a great television reality show!
        Parents in desperate need of help with discipline for their misbehaving and defiant children have sought after Jo Frost, the professional nanny on Supernanny. Jo Frost went into many homes and demonstrated several ways to discipline children whom were offering no relief to their parents.  She also demonstrated techniques which help parents develop a closer relationship with their children.  A total of eighty percent of respondents strongly agreed that the context of the reality show Supernanny as well as the improvements in the children’s behavior in the program is realistic.  Overall, seventy four percent strongly agreed that the program brought useful information into their living rooms (Ganeshasundaram & Henley, 2009).  With more reality programs such as these, families can once again tune into television at ease with less worries of bad influences through negative broadcastings. 
       There are some reality television shows that by some viewers will fall in between the negative and the positive categories. An example is the reality television program Teen Mom. Some may say that due to the content portrayed on this show, teenage pregnancy is being promoted. Furthermore, others may feel that since this is a world-wide issue, it is educational for teenagers. The show basically shows the reality of teenagers going through parenthood. Parenthood is very challenging and the teens on this show are demonstrating the challenges of being a teen parent. However, there are also scenes when the ‘joy’ of parenthood is also being demonstrated. That’s where the conflict of interest may come in about whether or not Teen Mom has a positive or negative influence as a reality television program.
       Clearly, there are positive and negative reality television programs.  Entertainment may be going downhill with certain broadcastings, but that does not mean that its viewers have to go downhill along with it.  It is wise to choose what is being viewed on television, especially with children.  Children seem to soak in everything they see, so let it be something positive.  After all, the children are the future and the valuable things in life should not be forgotten.  Remember that watching a program is the same as contributing towards it. When the ratings go up, more of it is broadcasted.  It would be wonderful if television can go back to portraying the values it did in the 1980s and 1990s.  However, time can not be rewound. ‘Freedom of speech’ is very active in this day and age.  Perhaps it is being misused when it comes to the values being portrayed on television and on the radio today.  Will entertainment get better or worse?  Well if it really is all about the ratings, then it is up to everybody who is watching and listening.


Berman, S. J. (1992). View at your own risk: gang movies and spectator violence. Retrieved from
Havrilesky, H. (2011). Reality TV. Fewer people are watching late-night talk shows. Recommended Reads. Retrieved from
Jaffe, E. (2005, March). Observer: reality check. Retrieved from
Ganeshasundaram, R. & Henley, N. (2009). Reality television (Supernanny): a social marketing “place” strategy. The Journal of Consumer Marketing, 26 (5), 371-379. Retrieved from
Greenberg, B.S. & Reeves, B. (2010, April 14). Children and the perceived reality of television. Journal and Social Issues, 32 (4), 86-97. Retrieved from
Greenfield, J. (2010, February 7). The real deal on reality TV. The true story about non-fiction television's attraction for participants and audiencesRetrieved from
Ouellette, L. (2010). Reality TV gives back: on the civic functions of reality entertainment. Journal of Popular Film & Television, 38 (2), 66-71. Retrieved from ProQuest    T=309&VName=PQD
Starpulse. (1999-2011). Extreme Makeover: Home Edition [Photography]. Tygert Burton Pennington. Retrieved from
Starpulse. (1999-2011). Family Matters [Photograph]. Retrieved from
Starpulse. (1999-2011). Flavor of Love [Photograph]. Retrieved from,_The/gallery/Flavor-of-Love-tv-14/
Starpulse. (1999-2011). Full House [Photograph]. Retrieved from
Starpulse. (1999-2011). I Love New York [Photograph]. Retrieved from
Starpulse. (1999-2011). Little House on the Prairie [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Starpulse. (1999-2011). Supernanny [Photograph]. Jo Frost. Retrieved from
Starpulse. (1999-2011). The Biggest Loser [Photograph]. Michelle Aguilar. Retrieved from
Starpulse. (1999-2011). The Cosby Show [Photograph]. Retrieved from,_The/gallery/Cosby-Show-63010-03/
Hawkins, J.M. (1981). The Oxford Minidictionary. Oxford University Press, New York.


  1. Good post! Very true indeed

  2. Very well put together, I found it very informative and helpful to me as far as my research paper at Ashford University as well. Thank you for posting, interesting.