Conclusion: Reality bites
Reality television is popular entertainment. And yet a common way to start a conversation about it is ‘I wouldn’t want anyone to know this but … ’. It is a guilty genre because people often watch it in secret. Say ‘reality TV’ and ﬁrst impressions are often negative. Critics have predicted its negative impact on modern culture; protesters have railed against its existence; participants have sued producers for exploitation; and viewers have called it car crash TV. In the novel Dexter is Delicious by Jeff Lindsay (2010: 279), the character of a teenage girl comments on her secret desire to be eaten by cannibals. She asks Dexter, a serial killer who stalks other killers: ‘Don’t you have some kind of secret that, you know … you can’t help it, but it makes you kind of ashamed?’ ‘Sure’ Dexter replies, ‘I watched a whole season of American Idol.’ It is precisely because reality television is popular entertain-
ment that it is often perceived as a guilty pleasure. Entertainment
formats like Idol utilize multi-media, taking the television programme and widening its points of consumption to include live events, micro payments, second screens, national tours, toys and merchandise, and so forth. Everywhere people turn, there is the brand, the merchandise, the chance to make money through advertising, ticket sales, downloads and apps. Similar to the sporting industry, reality television has been accused of overcommercializing the genre to the point of saturation. Such a criticism overstates the brand value of reality television. According to Gary Carter, ‘ﬁction television brands (like Dr Who) are far more successfully exploited in the “real world” than reality series are, despite claims’ (2014). But this attitude towards the new economy of reality television that trades on brand, personality, emotion and ethics goes some way to explaining the overwhelming negative critique of the genre. One of the challenges to understanding reality television is to both acknowledge this negative critique of the market of ‘reality’ in a commercial society and also see the multiple ways audiences and publics, consumers and users, engage with ‘reality’ relations. The argument of this book is that audience engagement with
different types of reality television tells us something about why people love and love to hate this form of popular entertainment. This concluding chapter examines the key themes of the book. These themes include the phenomenon of reality TV as a new kind of inter-generic space; the escalation of reality entertainment formats and producer intervention; audiences, fans and anti-fans for reality TV; the spectacle of reality and sports entertainment; and the ways real people and celebrities perform themselves in cross-media content. Reality TV has been a major entertainment genre of the past 15 years. But it is a fading phenomenon at this juncture in time. Jane Roscoe (2013), from SBS, notes: ‘Where are the shows that still make us say “oh that is great?” Reality TV has led the way, but dramas are the formats of the now.’ What the future holds is an open question for this form of popular entertainment. Yet, reality TV is a cannibal, feeding off the success of other genres, like sports or soap opera, and trends such as second screens and emotional economics. In this sense it is a resilient cultural form that feeds off itself and moves on (Sassoon 2006).