thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Guilty Pleasure

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2011 at 8:11 am

Chelsea H.


As a follow-up (of sorts) to Phoebe’s lovely discussion of communal TV watching yesterday, I’d like to offer this, sent to me by a friend (thanks, S!):

As someone who felt relief in finding compadres with whom to watch my  “shameful” shows (ANTM, Project Runway), and someone who occasionally changes the channel lest her husband see which brand of reality she is watching while alone (What Not To Wear, Bad Girls Club), I can see his point.  Previous to finding my small show communities, if my little predilections were revealed in public somehow, I explained them by claiming to watch for aesthetic values (the photoshoots in ANTM, the couture in Project Runway, the food in Top Chef).

But I’m not sure I agree with his thoughts on why we actually watch reality tv: “We say we watch them because it’s like a “train wreck,” or because they “make us feel better about ourselves,” but really we’re perpetually intrigued by, and obsessed with, the lurid toxicity of fame, which is reality television’s only true subject.”


  1. Good find, Chelsea! My reaction is similar to yours–I’m with him on how revealing guilty pleasures can be about what we like versus what we want others to see us liking, and what that says about how we envision our place in popular culture. And the point about how television communities can help alleviate the guilt associated with programs like The Bachelorette totally makes sense.

    But I don’t think fame is the reason people watch reality TV (or at least, it’s not the reason all or most people watch it). I think it’s much more about the lure of supposedly seeing real people responding to real situations, even though of course those situations are scripted and the people may be actors and everything has been edited. What do you think??

    • After thinking about this for a while, I’ve gotta say I feel this differs depending on the type of reality TV you are watching (yes, I just suggested there are multiple genres with in this type). For example, shows like Real Housewives or Bad Girls’ Club seem to me the kind of “real life” reality TV that this guy is discussing. And maybe, yes, people watch these to marvel at the incredible variability in humanity and how it deals with situations made unrealistic by cameras and money. Maybe, in that sense, we watch it because of the effect “fame” has on these people.
      On the other hand, competition based reality TV, which is the main type I am drawn to, seems to me fundamentally different. Here the goal for the contestants is to gain a certain type of fame, which they achieve both by winning, but also by just being on the show. Fame = publicity/public recognition. Here, I think we watch for different reasons. We watch for the drama, certainly, but also for the suspense and the drama introduced by the topic. I don’t watch Project Runway because I am sucked in by how these designers cope with fame, I watch it because I have never sewn a garment in my life and I am fascinated by what these incredibly talented people are able to do with 12 hours, $300, and a bedsheet. Sure, I enjoy the cat fights and the camera “confessional” sessions where they rag on each other, but what I’m really interested is the product. The “reality” is the truth that real people are engaged in this and they are producing “real” but amazing things in a limited time frame (so we are told). So that seems different enough to be significant.
      Are there other types of reality TV fundamentally different from these that we should also consider?

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