If It’s So Disconnected From Reality, Why Do We Love Reality TV So Much?

The Kardashians.

A name that has made it into our households because of a reality TV show, yet that show has less reality in it than winning the lottery. People pick their favourite Kardashian and relate to them, yet the life portrayed on television is a steroid-infused version of the most outrageous life someone could even dream of living. Reality television has become completely disconnected from the reality title, it isn’t even remotely relatable to the lives of its audience, but it still remains America’s number one guilty pleasure and only continues to grow. I think I have found the answer, and it lies within entertainment marketing.

In entertainment marketing theory, there is a Myth Market Model that highlights a difference between a person’s Identity Position and a Cultural Ideology (see figure below).

As lectured on by Markus Giesler
As lectured on by Professor Markus Giesler of the Schulich School of Business at York University

This model was introduced to me by Professor Giesler as the key to Entertainment Marketing, but more so it is a model that I feel explains today’s society perfectly. Our current identity position (or how we see ourselves) is one of being average, dreaming of being special and noticed and the centre of attention. This position is in direct relation to the Hollywood-inspired cultural ideology that we are exposed to from the youngest age. Hollywood creates TV shows for children, teenagers, and adults alike that showcase the glory in fame and stardom, as well as how through being special anyone can attain the fame. Shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians follow a group of people as they live the Hollywood life, and we readily accept this as the cultural ideal we all seek. We idolize celebrities and thus they become a part of the cultural ideology. Even Youtube stars are joining this ideology as the in-between level from the regular person to the Hollywood celebrity.

One problem: it’s not real. What Hollywood, through its various media outlets, has presented as the cultural ideal is highly edited and produced, with very little left up to chance when it comes to sending the right message. The Kardashians’ lives are in no way resemblant to reality. Everything is shot and reshot to get the right episodic content, and then editing moves scenes around (coupled with interviews) so that the audience receives very tailored content. And this is the same with all Hollywood-produced shows, as well as with any social media or musical content. Maybe we don’t have a choice but to watch reality TV, as to live with the fact that we cannot reach the Hollywood cultural ideal that we seek with is just too frightening.

Reality TV serves a very important purpose in our lives. As we are constantly bombarded with the unattainable Hollywood ideal, we feel anxieties and pressures to try and reach it. Though impossible, we are jealous of people who are more Hollywood than we are, and we laugh at those that have fared worse than us. We face these cultural contradictions (between our present and ideal selves) by consuming identity myths, in the form of the Kardashians. These identity myths, consumed as brands, allow us to express ourselves by showcasing our “individuality”. These various brands come from the Populist World featured in the model above, a place that houses all the identity myths that we hold as sacred, and is the source material for the brands we consume today. The Ugly Duckling, also known as the American Dream, is a great example of a myth that we hold as true. We all believe that through hard work and perseverance anything is achievable, and that a majestic transformation awaits us at the end. This identity myth is embodied in many of the brands that we consume. This only creates a stronger emotional relationship with the brand, and we feel all the more connected to the product we desire.

Good will always triumph over evil is another example of a myth from the Populist World that we were raised with our entire lives. Every Disney movie showcased this myth, and it has become a part of our cultural myth library. And when these myths are imbued into the content we consume, we feel an incredibly strong emotional connection and thus are loyal consumers.

However, our love of reality television doesn’t stem from the pursuit of a cultural ideal and its associated anxieties. Neither is it a guilty pleasure that kindles our desires to reach the Hollywood ideal. Instead, it is an escape from reality, the reality that we will never reach the Hollywood ideal as it simply doesn’t exist.

Kids are now exposed to Hollywood and its content at increasingly younger ages, and thus accept this cultural ideal as the only ideal. Kids want to become an actor because it looked cool on TV, or a lawyer because it looked amazing on the latest episode of Suits. But that reality isn’t real, and the earlier you are exposed to it, the more intimately you relate to it and strive to reach it.

Keeping Up With The Kardashians is a necessary escape from the cultural contradictions experienced when one sees the difference between their current identity position and the Hollywood ideol. The show contains the reality we want to have but will never reach, as it is crazy to believe that someone’s family will act normal with cameras around and with a whole production company tailoring your daily events to meet the season’s story. We love the Kardashians because they bring us closer to a reality that doesn’t exist, and one that we would be better off rethinking. Not only do we watch the Kardashians, but also try to live like them in any way we can as in the Kim Kardashian Hollywood game where we interact with this lifestyle.

The content we watch is tailored to the cultural ideology that shapes us. Simply looking at how tabloid magazines are formatted and displayed says enough about the type of cultural ideals we pursue. We are currently at a stepping point as the empowered generation, one that is witnessing and playing a part in reshaping cultural ideals pertaining to women’s rights as well as gay marriage. The brands that are relevant are inspired by the cultural ideals that we hold, and the cultural ideals that we hold are in turned shaped by the brands that we believe in and consume.

To reject the cultural ideology that drives us to seek the Hollywood life is a step in this cycle that will slowly reshape the content that is produced. In turn, this will start to further shape our cultural ideology and remove the need to escape our anxieties through reality TV. Shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians will change to keep up with society’s values, or just won’t keep up at all.

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