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Media Voyeurism in America: Why is Our Society So Invested in Reality Television

Brianne Clark
Ohio Northern University

Reality television is a phenomenon that has grown exponentially in the past few years and attracts a multitude of fans. Since beginning in 1948 with Candid Camera (what many consider the “first” reality television show), reality television has grown in popularity. The success of the show depends on the amount of support that it can gain from the viewers, and it seems extraordinary that some of these shows would survive past one season. Many of the programs such as Big Brother and Rock of Love with Bret Michaels really should not hold the viewers attention; a lot of the time the contestants are doing nothing more than sitting around. What attracts people to these shows? Why do people care about reality television, and continue to watch episode after episode? Theories postulated by Robert Park and Max Weber can be applied to the phenomenon of reality television in an attempt to explain why the viewers care about these shows as much as they do.  Robert Park’s theories of social control and collective behavior, the societal processes of competition, conflict, accommodation, and assimilation, and the self and the social role can be used to explain the trend of viewers drawn in by reality television. Likewise, the theories behind legal-rational authority and charismatic authority from Max Weber can be used in conjunction with a discussion of power, including the fleeting and unstable nature of this power, in order to explain why society tends to be attracted to reality television shows.

North Central Sociological Association Conference, Dearborn, MI