Are Reality Shows Ruining Relationships?

old-fashioned television
Buzz, Love

Why we should boycott reality television.

You may want to sit down for this; I come bearing shocking and disquieting news. According to The Hollywood Reporter, according to the show's creator almost everyone on the hit reality TV series The Jersey Shore has herpes. The anti-herpes medication Valtrex is passed around the set like candy. I know that Snooki and The Situation seem like upstanding young paragons of modern American virtue, but alas, that image is as fake as their tans. Jersey Shore Snooki's Guidette Breakup Advice

Okay, so no one should be surprised by this news. The fact is that reality TV reflects a twisted version of American culture—it's more TV than reality. But the explosion of reality TV shows in the last decade (even The History Channel has gotten in on the act!) says something about the state of our culture today.

The shows mostly gloss over the real difficulties of being in a relationship, in favor of formulaic drama. The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and now The Bachelor Pad, especially towards the end, is forced to make allegedly heart-wrenching choices about who they send packing and who they let go. Each time, they insist that they really can be in love with more than one person at the same time—but time heals all wounds, and on the reality shows that time is roughly the length of a commercial break. Relationships aren't like being on a game show, and rarely does The Bachelor and The Bachelorette ever bother with showing the kind of trade-offs that come with a real-world relationship. So, what is it really teaching us about relationships? 

All these shows have one thing in common: constantly maxing out the drama to get the highest ratings. But this comes at a price: whether it's getting the latest Gucci shoes or the handsome pilot with a heart of gold, these shows constantly show people behaving at their worst. They usually ensure that there's plenty of booze to loosen tongues, and plenty of drama—real or artificial—to keep the show moving. But at the end of the day, are those models of behavior we want people to emulate? Embracing My (Real) Jersey Shore Love Life

The solution to the problem of reality TV is simple: use reality TV stars to plug the oil leak in the Gulf. Okay, perhaps that solution is a bit extreme, and The Jersey Shore cast would only add to the oil in the Gulf. The last thing we need to see is pelicans covered in both crude oil and hairspray. The real solution is to simply not watch. Boycotting these shows tend to increase their ratings in the short term and gives them free publicity. The one thing that TV network execs actually care about are ratings: and a show that's declining in the ratings will get the ax sooner or later. 

We also need to be aware of what these shows are trying to say. Is The Bachelorette a celebration of true romance or an emotionally manipulative schlockfest? And how do we separate the two? Also, what kind of message do these shows teach couples? A friend of mine who, after watching The Bachelor, admitted to feeling less satisfied with her relationship. Fortunately, she snapped out of it and realized that real life isn't all rose ceremonies and hot-tub hanky panky. But what's the real impact here? What we consume affects how we think and the consumption of reality TV is not sending positive messages. 

But ultimately, the joke isn't on us it's on the poor saps who are on these shows. When the cast of The Jersey Shore's fifteen minutes of fame expire, they'll end up in the trashcan of discarded reality show rejects with Jon Gosselin and Rod Blagojevich. And they'll learn the one lesson that no reality show teaches: fame may be fleeting, but herpes is forever.

Do you think reality television hurts our cultural conception of relationships?