One day, I was at home watching the TV and there wasn’t really anything on. I’m not going to lie, I do engage in the ‘guilty pleasure’ shows from time to time. I used to watch the show Keeping Up with the Kardashians in the past when I was on holidays and lazing around. It does have quite an addictive nature to it, I hate that it does…but the producers obviously don’t, just look at the amounted success it has had. While I was deciding what to watch, I saw that the show was on. Not having watched it in a good while I wondered what they were up to these days. I turned it on to see that they were looking into the homelessness epidemic in Los Angeles and I thought that it was really interesting and a nice digress from their regular activities of going shopping, getting their makeup done or eating at nice restaurants.
When I saw this I thought about how they are using their enormous platform to address these social issues. This lead me to the question …does reality television help or hinder political discussions?
In America right now especially there is political debate around Planned Parenthood, ‘a health provider that delivers reproductive health care, sex education and information to many people worldwide.’ There are talks of the government looking to cut federal funding to the organisation, which an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians gave attention to. This is quite a large topic and there are discussions on both sides involving the ethical and philosophical topic of abortion, women’s rights, religious affiliations and many more. I found it interesting as this seemingly light entertainment reality show, which typically focuses on the glamorous lives of the women, decided to put this in their program.
In general, the media landscape has changed and there are so many ways of providing entertainment and relaying information. Media is much more interactive with the ever increasing use of social media. People don’t just view media as it is, now we have the ability to not only see it but contribute our own opinions to what we are watching. Social media has become a massive tool for these conversations. Many shows use it for their audiences to stay engaged and also interact with a larger community as well. One media type that has evolved over its introduction into entertainment has been the ‘Reality TV genre’. These blogs will also explore political discussions online, and how voices from unexpected areas (reality television ?) can ignite these discussions.
So what is reality television?
Reality television centres on ‘unscripted’ real life situations with regular people rather than using actors. It focuses on drama, conflict and entertainment as opposed to educating viewers. There are many types of reality shows, a lot involve ‘documentary’ style following people around in their day to day lives, talent competitions, competition shows bringing regular people together to complete challenges an example, Survivor, and ‘hidden camera’ scenarios.
The famous example I’m using of a successful reality show is ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’. It was a very family based show when it first started and still holds those core values. They were relatable in expressing different family relationships and bonds with siblings and parents. They weren’t exactly ‘unknown’ when starting the show but they focused on the concept of their large family as well as how they dealt with the limelight and their rising fame. Just comparing the original trailer to a recent one, you can see a huge shift in the dynamic of the show from a relatable, funny and playful family to a recent promo of them highly glamorised, focusing on a more chic, attractive and stylish look.
With the show having immense popularity as well as the individuals continual rising fame there’s no denying, even if you may not like them, that they have a very large platform to the public. You can go to any platform and they’ll be there, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and many television shows. They are not shy when it comes to their social engagement or allowing others to know what’s happening. Their main show has drawn 2 million viewers in the past, and even though ratings have dropped a little they still show continued popularity. The people watching the show range from 18-49 year olds, so they really cater for a more younger audience (Forbes), especially the 18-35 range, which is commonly sought after by advertisers and the demographic is also quite media savvy.
The other part to this blog series is looking into political engagement through this show and social media. More people are relying on social media for the news and information, especially young voters (Washington Post). People don’t always go out seeking political topics to talk about. When someone sees something on social media it might spark further interest, or when watching a show and a political topic comes up, that might be the only time they will see or know about it. For a long time, television networks have maintained a separation between politics and popular culture. Politics were primarily found in newscasts, talk shows and documentaries and much less in other genres (Entertaining Politics, 2009). There was this notion that people talking about politics on television shows should have direct knowledge of what they are talking about and also ‘expertise’ being an important characteristic of who gets to talk. But decades later, this premise has changed and there are many new approaches to political talk. ‘New voices and programming types challenge the assumptions of what constitutes knowledge, who gets to speak, what issues can be addressed and what is open for criticism.’(Jeffrey P. Jones, Entertaining Politics). So for example someone watching Keeping Up, and are then finding themselves being informed about Planned Parenthood by the organisation and 3 reality television moguls, it’s something you wouldn’t expect but it can now happen with the versatile nature of reality TV. There is also the objective of the women on the show, using this relatable forum and catering to their female dominant audience.
Part 2 will further explore the relationship of entertainment shows to political discussion and social media being a massive instrument in this. Not only are people watching the show Keeping Up with the Kardashians, but the people on the show have huge followings on their social medias. I’m going to provide my analysis of the episode involving their visit to Planned Parenthood (Season 14, episode 5), and the reaction it got from social media and general news outlets. There is also the question of authenticity, and if this political issue is somehow overshadowed by the ‘entertainment’ side, or hindered by already negative opinions of the people presenting the message.