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Is Reality Real?

By Shannon Keane, Copy Editor (skeane3@uic.edu)

When I was a senior in high school, I got approached for a really interesting opportunity. Three weeks before graduation, Lifetime came to our high school to film segments for their new reality show, Prom Queens. It would follow the journey of a few select nominees on their way to prom, hopefully ending the night with a crown and sash to match their beautiful, too-expensive dresses. Alas, I didn’t win prom queen, and the episode never actually aired. But having cameras following me around school and home, even at my graduation party, really got me thinking: how real is it all?

Regardless of whether or not we’re proud of it, we have to be honest: we have all probably seen an episode of Jersey Shore in the past. I myself am no exception; following their lives for about half a season gave me an excuse to escape my own boring high school life that consisted of homework, tests, and teachers that didn’t really care. It was fun to watch people with such colorful, fun lives interact with each other for even just an hour.

But if the cameras are there, how real is it?

When I got filmed for Prom Queens, everything was a production. Everything from saying hello to my best friends to graciously denying the crown of prom queen was filmed once, twice, three times until they “got the shot right.” But after hugging my best friend Ali five times at graduation, it seemed a little less authentic. It definitely wasn’t real.

So then how are we supposed to label “reality TV” shows? Are they actual paintings of what real life is like? My answer is no. They are about a cluster of people who get paid and get told what to do. They are cheap sitcoms on a budget. The “real people” are actors, the “problems” are written and scripted. How many times was I told what to do, how many times did I put extra makeup on before going in front of the cameras?

I don’t write this article to sway people away from the practice of watching reality TV. You’re free to watch as much Teen Mom and American Idol as you want. I myself still follow the X Factor every season. (One Direction met there – how could it be bad?)

No, my simple advice for you about reality TV shows is this: Watch them with a lens. Try to imagine the villain of the episode crying to her mom on the phone about what happened to the people she “bullied” in the last episode REALLY did to her. Try to imagine the person – who made it through the first round on The Voice because she was terrible, and made “good TV” – watch her dreams get crushed in front of millions. Try to imagine me, who just wanted to enjoy prom night with her friends, fending off cameramen asking me about the current state of my relationship.

Which, by the way was really complicated at that point. But you know what? The cameras didn’t know that. Because that was real life. Not “reality.”

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