Popular Culture

15 Reality Shows that are Ruining America



TV can be a wonderful thing.  Documentaries enlighten the intellect and sitcoms tickle the funny bone for all of America and beyond.  TV has offered us rich shared experiences like the moon launch and Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction.  But sometimes TV can be a mirror for the ugliest aspects of humanity, and ever since the advent of the reality television craze, it seems that TV is getting uglier and uglier.

Whether we’re obsessed with people who hoard cats or auctioning off highly invasive facial reconstruction procedures to competing brides, American culture is pretty sick when it comes to what we like to watch on a Thursday night at primetime.  But even though we know it, when we hear about a new reality show documenting the life of pageant circuit octuplets with cocaine additions, we can help but tune into it.

American Idol

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“American Idol” is an amazing show.  It gave us Kelly Clarkson and she entertained America for at least three years.  It gave us Clay Aiken, whose dead-end musical career and standing availability for guest spots on failing sitcoms have aroused our sympathies time after time.  “American Idol” symbolizes the American Dream for many of its contestants who have lived small lives and are finally about to get a chance to dream big.  But “American Idol” isn’t about dreaming.  “American Idol” is about two fundamental human pleasures: hearing good voices, and seeing earnest people fail.

The audition episodes are incredibly entertaining and oft-regarded as the high point of each season.  Why is it so interesting?  Because we get to watch people with dreams put themselves out there on national television, get ridiculed, and then cry.

But “American Idol” has revealed something even more disturbing about our society than the fact that we love watching stern British men degrade Americans… it has revealed that we actually have a societal tolerance for the talentless host, Ryan Seacrest.  And that’s hard to come to terms with.


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What are weddings really about?  Finding love?  Celebrating love?  Family?  God?  Marriage is hard to define, and the legal definition of marriage is a hot-button issue for all Americans. But if we want to know what weddings are really about we must only look as far as the TV.  There we will find “Bridalplasty” — marriage as a publicity stunt.

“Bridalplasty” pits twelve insecure brides against one another to vie for a free dream wedding and some plastic surgery to boot.  Each week the girls compete and each winner gets to have one procedure from their plastic surgery wish-list.  Lipo one week.  Eye job the next.  That is, if you’ve got what it takes.

Supposedly the idea is to hand the bride back to her husband with an over-the-top wedding he had no hand in planning and a face quite different than the one he fell in love with.

Toddlers in Tiaras

The urge to procreate is very strong.  Let’s get real, who wouldn’t want to actually create a little clone of themselves that they can then dress up in little outfits and carry around like a cute purse?  Children, like dogs, are very cute when dressed up like little grown-ups. Pageants evoke the same feeling that the painting of dogs playing poker does… but infinitely creepier. And more abusive.

“Toddlers in Tiaras” reveals a dark corner of American society where the parental urge to psychologically manipulate and use their children for personal reasons is at its strongest.  In each episode we watch lonely mothers carry their daughters around town for artificial tanning, evening wear selection, eyebrow plucking, eyelash implantation and worse all for the purpose of competing for the crown. One child wound up sobbing and begging not to have her eyebrows done after a botched waxing ripped some of the skin off her face.

It’s not easy for girls to have high self-esteem in this Post-Miley Cyrus world of ours.  Is it really smart to teach them the importance of dressing like a prom-night bimbo to win the smiles of a crowd of bucktooth hayseeds? Is it really okay to force your children to undergo appearance-altering procedures to serve your own selfish needs? It’s amazing that training a child like a little slut-monkey is promoted, yet somehow many believe the world will get worse if gay marriage is legalized. America.


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“Hoarders” is an interesting phenomenon which has captivated America of late.  It seems as if the regular neurotic social disorders of human beings are no longer captivating.  Drug addiction and alcoholism won’t cut it for primetime anymore. Hoarding has existed for far longer than the show “Hoarders,” yet it is just now coming to light through media exploitation exploration.

Following the stories of real life hoarders, individuals who often become entombed in their own homes from the obsessive collecting and storing of trash and debris, the show posits itself as a chance for healing and redemption for those who are on it.  But it’s hard to deny that the show provides its viewers with much else than a selfishly gratifying “ick” factor and water-cooler banter.


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Few people who watch Intervention can deny its power.  It is a compelling series which uses each episode to examine the life of an addict and his/her family, friends, and partners as they plan and stage an intervention.  It is dramatic, disturbing, emotional, and sometimes humorous.  Drunk people can be funny and sad simultaneously, and laughing as these families go through immensely challenging emotional trials is hardly nice.

“Intervention” is disturbing because it is compelling, and because it has made addition a trend in entertainment, opening doors for a slew of addiction based TV shows.  But seriously, we’re talking about people’s lives here, not Pokemon. Recently, the show seems to have fallen into a pattern. You can only make so many nationally aired Interventions before addicts catch on, and it looks like they’re calling in just to have their last few crazy binges filmed before entering rehab.

Animal Hoarders

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“Animal Hoarders” is a low point for television.  If we examine the history of television we know that spin-offs rarely work because of how transparently they try to cash in on the sparkle of a great show without having any of its actual charm or cleverness.  “Animal Hoarders” cannot help but feel desperate.  Hoarding is the most noticeable instance of “behavioral disorder” branding and is enjoying what will surely be a notable fifteen minutes of fame.

“Animal Hoarders,” obviously about people who own FAR too many animals, will enjoy success in the way that terrible vampire movies and TV shows enjoy success just from temporal proximity to the Twilight Saga.  But it will not be remembered as a show about healing and bringing knowledge and acknowledgement to a troubled and unseen group of people.  It will be remembered as a cheap knock-off of a show in a strange period of time when Hoarding was all the rage.

My Strange Addiction

With “My Strange Addiction” we have to come to terms with the fact that addiction and psychosis are now full-blown American media trends and thus the airwaves will be absolutely packed with as much addiction and psychosis content as possible.

The theory behind “My Strange Addiction” is simple.  It’s like “Fear Factor” or “Jackass” only these people are actually mentally ill and can’t help eating/doing nasty/absurd stuff.  The show chronicles chalk-eaters, paper-eaters, cat-addicts, ventriloquism-addiction (she couldn’t stop talking as the puppet), skin bleachers, scab pickers, men who marry dolls, couch-cushion eaters and more.

According to Wikipedia, none of these things can be medically classified as addiction.  But as sex did in the 90’s, addiction is what sells today.

The Jersey Shore

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“The Jersey Shore” is not completely low-brow.  It is, in its own way, a mirror for the human condition and is ambitious for tackling love, envy, betrayal, race, and culture.   Of course, this is just what people who need to justify their love of the show will say.  Most people will just admit that it is for indulging in the exquisite smugness of watching trashy people go about their lives.

“The Jersey Shore” permits its viewers to access the most base aspects of their natures.  They barhop, bed-hop, fight like maniacs, and talk like idiots and watching “The Jersey Shore” can make just about any viewer feel smart, cultured, and mature in comparison.  We might say we genuinely love Snooki, but we tried to put her in the dropping ball in Times Square on New Years Eve and quite frankly that’s not where you put someone you respect.  Think about it.

I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant

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“I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” tells the story of women who wake up one day and find out that they are about to have a baby.

In other words it’s about early-onset child neglect.  With the exception of some notable medical irregularities that allowed for nine months of blissful ignorance, most of these women have to just be some combination of fat and stupid.  Some folks say that all Americans are fat and stupid and that’s why we need shows like this.

Girls Next Door

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“Girls Next Door” is like a sick, twisted version of Charlie’s Angels.  Three beautiful women, one very old man, and a lot of money.  But instead of being a highly trained vigilante team, these women are a bizarre, polygamous wife/girlfriend/sex partner cluster.  And instead of Charlie, the unseen millionaire, it’s Hugh Heffner and he’s a Viagra popping magazine magnate who insists to the media that he is still sexually active despite the fact that he looks to be 100 years old and hasn’t changed out of his robe in three decades.

The three main girls in Hugh Heffner’s life are some of the most dimwitted characters on TV.  But apparently the fact that they are hot, rich and slightly lesbian in a heterosexual fantasy kind of way makes them compelling.

Dancing with the Stars

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Our society’s obsession with celebrity culture is a bit unnerving.  Regarding these people, known for their good looks and propensity to act in movies and sing songs, we are like starving children around a loaf of bread.  We grab, we tear, we worship, and we destroy.

And what do celebrities do when we have pretty much consumed our fill of them and moved onto the next?  Well, we create shows where they can compete for the last shreds of their diminishing fame.

“Dancing With The Stars” has featured such hacks, nobodies, and has-beens for contestants as Bristol Palin, Mario Lopez, Billy Ray Cyrus, and David Hasselhoff.  If you look at the list of their past and present contestants, it is hard to find anyone you’d really consider a star.  But sadly, we are so obsessed with fame that we would probably watch just about anyone dance if assured that they have at least been on TV once before.

The Bachelor

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When ABC revealed “The Bachelorette” it was too late.  “The Bachelor” had already undone all the work of the Women’s Movement and no pale female equivalency show could stop it.

“The Bachelor” is a show about one man trying to pick his wife from a gaggle of virtually identical bimbos and aspiring news anchorwomen who vie and connive for the heart of this stranger who has been picked out for them by a television network.

It seems pretty clear that they’re after the fame and money — after all, ex-Bachelors and Bachelorettes have gone on to “Dancing with the Stars.”  However, the show claims to be about the love and respect of one man and one woman.

In one season, Bachelor Jake Pavelka lost a potential bride when she had an affair with a male crew member of the show.  The crew member was fired and the contestant publicly shamed and kicked off the show.  Oh that’s right, only the man is allowed to sleep with everyone.  The women are just supposed to wait for their turn and fight with each other.  Thanks Susan B. Anthony…  For nothin’!

To Catch a Predator


It’s very possible that the advent of “To Catch a Predator” has slowed the armies of Internet-based creeps.  It’s very possible that it has saved lives and that the fear of a very public humiliation will keep men from trying to solicit underage girls on the web.  However, that only explains why the show is made.  But why is it watched?

The Germans have a word for a show like “To Catch a Predator.” Schadenfreude.  It denotes the pleasure taken from the suffering of others.  “To Catch a Predator” doesn’t just humiliate men who try and get into hot-tubs with 16-year-olds.  It also humiliates their families, their wives if they have them, and often their children.

Quite frankly, the show exhibits a person who is sick and trying to victimize someone. They get busted and their life is destroyed.

We can say that they deserve it, and they probably do, but is it really something to watch while sitting on a couch eating a microwave dinner and laughing?  Has human suffering become America’s new favorite pastime?


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If any show reveals the cracking foundation of American marriage, it is “Bridezillas.”  The show follows the plights of women planning their weddings, becoming obsessive and controlling, and often breaking down completely while their tormented husbands and friends can do little more than watch.

With divorce rates as high as they are, it’s curious that people are even interested in making a big production of their weddings in the first place.  On the other hand, divorce rates might be high because our society has placed such a high premium on outward appearance (manifested in weddings) and not on inner reality (as experienced in the post-wedding reality of a private relationship).

Either way, there are no such things as Happiness-zillas who go positively nutty trying to have a good, balanced and respectful relationship with their spouse.  Just “Bridezillas,” who lose all sense of themselves and self respect for the sake of having a day that appears to anyone who doesn’t really know them, as perfect.

I Love New York

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On the surface, “I Love New York” seems like any mass-produced reality dating game shown on VH1.  One woman, named “New York” trying to find love amongst a big group of idiots.  But it’s actually something sinister.  “I Love New York” is a spin off of “Flavor of Love,” which was a spin-off of “Strange Love” which was a spin off of “The Surreal Life,” which was actually pretty interesting.  But the premise of the surreal life, much like that of “Dancing with the Stars,” was to give has-beens a new shot at televised glory.

Flavor Flav was hardly famous to begin with but then he got a spin-off and the people in his spin-offs got spin-offs and before you know it you have a situation where TV and celebrity is creating itself and no longer being created.

It won’t be long before reality TV actually develops its own autonomous will and consciousness, and soon after that the world will end.  Most likely in 2012.  Think about it.


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