Summary: The rise of reality television has led to the production of shows that are not only low quality, but downright nasty. These programs thrive on conflict, drama, and people’s vulnerabilities, and they have become a staple of modern entertainment. In this article, we examine the various ways in which nasty TV has infiltrated our screens, from exploitative reality shows to confrontational talk shows.
1. Exploitative reality shows
Exploitative reality shows are those that exploit the participants’ vulnerabilities for the sake of entertainment. This includes shows that focus on weight loss, plastic surgery, and extreme makeovers. While these programs are presented as uplifting stories of transformation, they often border on cruelty, subjecting people to humiliating experiences in front of a national audience. Additionally, many of these contestants are left to flounder after the show is done filming, without any sustainable support or follow-up.
One notable example of an exploitative reality show is “The Swan,” which aired in 2004 and featured women undergoing extensive cosmetic surgeries to transform their looks. The show was widely criticized for its shallow premise and the emotional manipulation of the contestants.
Similarly, “The Biggest Loser” has come under fire for its grueling weight loss techniques and the way it portrays weight loss as a competition rather than a journey towards health. Former contestants have spoken out about the extreme diets and exercise regimes they were subjected, and the long-term effects these practices had on their bodies.
2. Confrontational talk shows
Confrontational talk shows are programs that pit guests against each other, often resulting in heated arguments and physical altercations. These shows were popularized in the 90s with the likes of “Jerry Springer” and “Maury Povich,” but have since been replaced by more current versions like “The Wendy Williams Show” and “The Real.” While the hosts often present these shows as a way to give a voice to marginalized communities, they are exploitative in their own right, using people’s trauma and pain for ratings.
One of the biggest criticisms of confrontational talk shows is their tendency to escalate situations rather than diffuse them. Guests are often provoked into hostile behavior and encouraged to air their dirty laundry in a public forum. The result is a spectacle that trivializes serious issues and reinforces unhelpful stereotypes.
Another issue with confrontational talk shows is their reliance on shock value. Many of these programs feature guests with extreme behaviors or lifestyles, and they are presented as aberrations rather than real people with complex stories. This reinforces the idea that certain types of people are not worthy of respect or understanding.
3. Dating shows
Dating shows are a subgenre of reality television that have been around for decades. While some dating shows portray healthy relationships and encourage meaningful connections, others are designed for drama and conflict. One of the most notorious examples of this is “The Bachelor,” which pits multiple women against each other for the affections of one man.
The problem with dating shows like “The Bachelor” is that they perpetuate harmful gender norms and reinforce unrealistic expectations about romance. The show presents a hyper-idealized version of love, where jealousy and pettiness are rewarded and emotional maturity is considered uninteresting.
In addition, dating shows often lack diversity and representation, perpetuating narrow beauty standards and reinforcing the idea that certain people are more desirable than others. This has real-world consequences for how we view ourselves and our relationships.
4. Shock value documentaries
Shock value documentaries are documentaries that focus on gruesome or horrifying subjects for the sake of sensationalism. While there is certainly value in documenting difficult topics, such as war or social injustice, some documentaries cross a line into exploitation.
One recent example of this is the documentary “Tiger King,” which became a viral sensation in 2020. The show ostensibly focused on the world of big cat enthusiasts, but it quickly devolved into a story of violent feuds and abuse. Critics have argued that the show exploited the abusive behavior of its subjects rather than focusing on the larger social issues at play.
Similarly, the documentary “Making a Murderer” has been criticized for being one-sided and manipulative in its portrayal of the legal system. While the show’s creators claimed to be shining a light on miscarriages of justice, many viewers felt that the constant twists and turns were designed solely for entertainment purposes.
5. Tabloid news programs
Tabloid news programs are television shows that focus on sensational news stories, particularly those related to celebrities or crime. While these programs can be entertaining, they often prioritize shock value over actual journalism, presenting half-truths and rumors as fact.
One infamous example of this is “Access Hollywood,” which became embroiled in scandal during the 2016 presidential election when a tape was released of then-candidate Donald Trump making lewd comments about women. The tape had been recorded by an “Access Hollywood” correspondent, but the program chose not to air it until it was leaked to the press.
Tabloid news programs contribute to the greater problem of fake news and misinformation, spreading rumors and conspiracy theories without any journalistic rigor. They also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and reinforce the idea that celebrity gossip is more important than real news.
Nasty TV has become a pervasive part of our culture, with programs that rely on conflict, drama, and exploitation becoming more and more popular. While there is certainly value in entertainment and escapism, it’s important to recognize the harm that these types of shows can cause. They perpetuate harmful stereotypes, exploit people for ratings, and contribute to a greater culture of sensationalism and misinformation. By being more critical of the media we consume, and supporting programs that prioritize ethics and diversity, we can push back against nasty TV and demand better from our entertainment industry.