Reality TV: Ethics or Entertainment?
Eliane Mitchell

05 July 2017

To say that reality TV shows can be "morally fraught" in their practices is an understatement. Publicizing and, in essence, commodifying people's lives, reality shows raise ethical issues by intruding upon their particpants' privacy and by manipulating their participants' behavior—all for the purposes of inciting gossip, tears, and drama. But are reality shows so morally vexed that they should be abolished? Or, if they are to stay, under what practices and ethical limitations may reality shows justifiably operate?


This paper from the University of Brussels analyzes the treatment of reality show participants under four categories of potential harm, including intrusion, humiliation, misrepresentation, and appropriation. While the paper argues that publicizing private life is "not unethical per se," program makers owe a greater responsibility to preventing harm to their participants than to catering audiences' cravings for conflict and drama. This also means, as the paper argues, that reality TV producers should be wary of the effects of typecasting, which may perpetuate "the social or cultural devaluation of particular groups in society," and of surreptitious recording as an intrusion upon participants' self-determination.


But how would these limitations change your favorite reality TV shows? Don't we often watch reality TV for the outlandish personae and situations it creates? Read the paper and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


Full link to paper here:

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Tuesday, June 4, 2024 -- 11:42 PM

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