Welcome to TV Week on StyleCaster! Throughout the next seven days, we’ll be bringing you compelling content about one of our favorite things in the world: Television. Look out for new shows to watch, character roundups, fun facts, personal essays, and lots more. Why? Because we’re just as obsessed as you.
If you don’t know about my love for reality TV, then you don’t know me at all. Not only does it dictate whether we can hang out (sorry, Mondays and Tuesdays aren’t good for me—”Real Housewives”), but it kind of rules my life.
I couldn’t tell you the first reality show I ever watched, but I have a distinct memory of staying home one day during a family ski trip to binge-watch an entire season of “Real World: Boston.” From there, things spiraled out of control.
My reality tastes expanded over time, though stayed close to the MTV home. “Sorority Life,” “MTV Diary,” and “True Life” all ruled my adolescent TV-watching years. My college years were filled with “Laguna Beach” and the beginning of “Teen Mom.”
Then, shortly after I graduated, Bravo exploded. Today, that network is my church, Andy Cohen my god.
Like more traditional addictions (booze, drugs, porn, what have you), mine has also interfered with my personal life from time to time. I’ve had full-on fights with my husband over my TV tastes, as he sees something like “Jersey Shore” as pure filth, and me filthy for liking it. I now know that his distaste for a reality show is in direct relation to how shriek-y the show is. He can hear the shrillness in the voices of “Real Housewives of Atlanta” from two rooms away.
Now, before you imagine me as someone who will watch anything that’s put in front of her, you should know I have a carefully curated list of reality shows I will watch. Cooking competition shows? Not for me. Honey Boo-Boo? Nuh-uh. It’s not that I consider these other shows beneath me—I watch “True Tori” for god’s sake—it’s that I only have a certain number of hours in the day, and I want to focus on what I really like.
When people ask why I love reality TV so much, I don’t have a clear answer. I don’t consider myself anything like the characters (and let’s face it—they are characters). I don’t live for drama in friendships, I don’t live with six strangers in an awesome house, and I definitely don’t have a baby and a GED to earn. I just love the ability to observe complete chaos in other people’s lives from the calm comfort of my couch.
A downside to being an avid reality TV viewer is the fact that I often witness tragic real-life occurences being treated as entertainment. There’s no doubt that disturbed people are drawn to the reality limelight and—as such—I’ve seen breakdowns, I’ve watched the dissolution of several marriages, been privy to multiple reality stars’ brushes with the law, and watched a wife deal with the fact that her husband killed himself in between seasons of filming.
During these moments, I do question whether I should be so invested in these types of shows, and whether my participation (passive as it may be) is a part of the problem.
The biggest difference I’ve found between being a reality TV viewer versus a regular TV viewer is when you’re watching a show like “Mad Men,” you know that Jon Hamm isn’t Don Draper. No matter how good an actor he is, I’m aware that he’s playing a role created by writers. Reality TV, on the other hand, means what you see is what you get. While scenarios might be scripted, the cast-members are still playing versions of themselves.
As a result, I feel like I really know these people, so I can (and do) have full-length conversations about how I’m genuinely concerned for Rob Kardashian‘s well-being and just want to see him happy, and I’ll absolutely mean it.
Twenty years ago a show like “Real World” was considered groundbreaking, and now we have a reality show for literally every activity and every type of person under the sun. With today’s Golden Age of Television stronger than ever, who knows how much longer viewership will support these unscripted shows. Eventually, those toddlers in tiaras will grow up, those housewives will have to find jobs, the Kardashians will have to capitulate to eventual anonymity, and it won’t be pretty. But until that happens, I’ll forge on with my reality show addiction, and I will continue to watch until they pull the remote from my cold, dead hands.