By Emily Torkel
Reality television is hotter than ever. The Jersey Shore is in its second season and its leads have become stars with product deals. America’s Got Talent just named its season winner. Dancing with the Stars is already back with their fantastic cast of celebrity B-listers and C-listers and Bristol Palin. Why do we care? Who cares about those trashy people at the Jersey Shore or those celebrity has-beens and wannabes dancing? The answer is: We do. Why do so many college students love reality television?
“One needs only to take a look at the ratings to see 15 of the top 20 highest-rated programs among the young adult group are reality and unscripted shows,” according to The New York Times.
When asked about the popularity of reality television, Professor Krin Gabbard, from the Stony Brook University Department of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies, responded, “So many college students love reality television because it is chaotic and playful.”
For many students, watching shows like The Real World or Hell’s Kitchen provide an escape from a stressful reality. Katie Ben, a freshman, said of reality television, “It makes you feel better about your own life.” If you watch Snooki or JWoww from the Jersey Shore stumble down the stairs or fall over drunk, it might give you a personal lift. You can look in the mirror and tell yourself that you are not as bad as they are.
“Most college students recognize themselves or someone they know in reality television,” said Gabbard. Many reality stars are college-aged: 18-23. Watching the show is a way of acting vicariously through their peers. Gabbard continued, “We can watch people we relate to do outrageous things, and not suffer any of the normal consequences.”
Many of the popular reality shows like Jersey Shore, Big Brother, or The Real World all take place in college-like settings. They are strangers thrown together to live in the same house. It is just like a dorm room: they live, eat, and sleep together. These intense reality show relationships mimic typical college life.
With the busy schedule of college students, sometimes reality television is a way to unwind. Freshman “College students are always looking for a diversion from their hectic lives, and reality television offers that,” Rebecca Jones said.
Whatever your feelings about reality television, you must face the fact that it will be around for a while. These shows are less expensive to produce than standard dramas or sitcoms, and studios barely have to pay the actors. People line up to get on reality shows like American Idol or The Real World.
College students face many challenges, and one of them is preparing for the “real” world after graduation. Watching infantile and immature behavior of people our own age provides a release valve for the stress many students feel.
Reality television is great because it is so ridiculous. The more absurd, the better the show is. There is just something about watching people making fools out of themselves that is priceless. It is like watching a perfectly orchestrated train wreck, or one might say an unscripted train wreck.