Reality programs have dominated television networks since their rise in popularity began in the early 1990s with MTV’s The Real World. The reality genre quickly gained viewership as it redefined the formulaic set up of televisions shows from the past. Reality television has infiltrated television because networks prefer low budgets for their programs that also generate high ratings (Hasinoff, 2008). People watch reality shows because they are intrigued by the seemingly “real” drama with ordinary people as characters (Dubrofsky, 2006). Now at its peak of growth, reality television evokes ideas of social order and cultural norms to its audiences, while perpetuating racial stereotypes in society (Mendible, 2004). My purpose of the review of literature is to examine and analyze reality television’s influence on people’s perceptions of African American stereotypes.
Reality based television has a broad landscape ranging from competitive game-like shows to programs following the daily lives of a group of people. Every major network now has some form of reality programming because the genre’s shows are high in viewership and require low costs for production. The genre is appealing to viewers because it provides them with a first-hand look into the lives of everyday people, which allows them to observe social behavior that helps them determine what is appropriate or not (Tyree, 2011, p. 397). Since the majority of modern reality stars start out as unknowns, frequent viewers of reality programming believed that fame is obtainable if they appear on a popular show (Mendible, 2004). According to Mendible’s evaluation of the genre in the article Humiliation, Subjectivity, and Reality TV, people enjoy reality programs because they are essentially a form of public humiliation for characters on the shows and this has a unifying effect for viewers (Mendible, 2004). Reality show characters are often shown in embarrassing situations and their personal matters are publicized to the world. The research found that frequent viewers of reality TV highly value revenge, competition, and achieving status and prestige (Mendible, 2004, p. 336). Mendible further discussed reality television’s strategic use of humiliation as a form of entertainment to draw in viewers (Mendible, 2004). With constant exposure to media images, audiences may be influenced by the television show’s values and subliminal messages. People use reality television as an informational tool to “people watch” and observe what is socially acceptable or not (Tyree, 2011, p. 397). The problem with using television to observe and decipher social norms with is that reality shows are not actually based on real events.
Reality television contains fictional aspects that allow producers to manipulate situations that appear to be “real” on screen. In order to keep their characters interesting and easily recognizable throughout the season, a show must clearly establish heroes, villains and...