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Argumentative Essay Reality Television

If a person turns their TV on in almost any country, most likely the channels will be filled with different kinds of reality shows. This is no surprise, because this kind of TV program has become amazingly popular in recent decades. Such shows are entertaining and addicting to watch, as they focus not on fictional characters, but on real people put in different contexts and situations. However, regardless of the entertainment it delivers, a question may arise: is there something more to watching reality shows than being entertained?

When evaluating reality shows, several factors should be taken in consideration. The “reality” that is usually shown on TV is not the same objective reality we live in. Every reality show has a core idea to which the behavior of its contestants is subdued—though the participants are not obliged to act one way or another, they still follow the script, and their behavior is then evaluated (by audiences, other show participants, moderators, and so on). “All TV shows, not just reality shows, help construct scenarios that demonstrate how some behaviors will be rewarded or punished. The concern is that frequent viewers of these shows will learn these behaviors, see them as desirable and then model them in the actual real world,” says Dr. Brad Gorham, chair of the Communications Department at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University (USA Today).

If we try to figure out what is so entertaining about reality shows, we can reach this conclusion: it is the humiliation and mocking of the contestants that makes people amused. Indeed, if we analyze such a popular show as American Idol, we will easily notice many episodes of this program are dedicated to making fun of the contestants, whose performing abilities were lower compared to other participants (which does not necessarily mean they are deprived of talent, or are worse in any other way). This can create an audience (which mostly consists of teenagers) that rate and assess people based on their qualities, such as appearance or skills; this model forms a solid basis for discriminating behavior and a lack of tolerance (eHow).

Yet another negative effect of reality shows is a distorted depiction of relationships between genders. Many reality shows address sexual themes, or depict relationships based on scandals and fights. Relationships on TV contrast real life ones: they tend to be less stable and harmonious, they are sexualized, and usually aimed at bringing more popularity to those engaged in them. Since it is difficult to control the access of underaged audiences to TV programs, children and teenagers are exposed to the risks of developing a wrong perception of relationships based on what they see on TV, which is unacceptable (RFA.edu).

Even though reality shows have become extremely popular, it does not mean they are beneficial for their audiences. Rather often, these shows display role models that are based on semi-artificial circumstances and environments. However, these models are still seen as desirable by viewers. In addition, humiliation, which makes the basis of the entertainment component in the majority of reality shows, teaches audiences to rate people based on their physical or psychological qualities, which can create a solid basis for discriminating behavior. In addition, considering sexualized and simplified depictions of romantic relationships in reality shows, one can claim these TV programs can cause perverted perceptions of relationships between different genders in the minds of teenagers, who usually make up the target audience of the majority of reality shows.


Fahner, Micki. “The Real Effects of Reality TV.” USA Today College. N.p., 18 Apr. 2012. Web. 08 Sept. 2014.

“Negative Effects of Reality Shows.” EHow. Demand Media, 07 Oct. 2010. Web. 08 Sept. 2014.

LeBoue, Sarah. “Reality Tv May Cause Deviant Sexual Behavior Among Teens.” RFA.edu. N.p., 01 Sept. 2014. Web. 08 Sept. 2014.

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Example Argument Essay

English 102

Assignment: Write a critical essay (5 pages minimum) in which you make an argument concerning the impact of some type of television programming on its audience.

[Instructor comments appear in bold, italic font within brackets below.]

Broadcasting A Plague

I really didn’t want to do this. Given all of the different types of programming there are, I was hoping that I could write about something a little more unexpected. But then I thought about it a little more and realized that I’ll probably never get an opportunity like this again. Before too much longer, reality TV could very well be gone. It will either die out like all fads, or be replaced by something else. I might as well take this opportunity to write about reality TV in its current incarnation while it’s still relevant. When you consider some of the other types of shows that people enjoy (talk shows for example), the popularity of reality TV isn’t all that surprising. It seems that people simply enjoy watching other people perform various activities. Television networks realize this and the number of reality shows has grown considerably in the last few years. Unfortunately, this type of programming has turned into something more than harmless entertainment. Reality TV can be harmful to those who participate in it, those who watch it, and to television in general. [Creative intro and clear thesis! While your tone is informal and some instructors might object to the use of “I” in a formal argument paper, you introduce your topic very naturally and end your introduction with a good, strong claim about the impact of reality television.]

The situations that reality TV shows put their contestants into, despite being entertaining (if you’re into this sort of thing, and many people are), can be dangerous to those who are participating. [Good topic sentence to focus the paragraph.] Almost any reality program you can think of is competitive. Shows may require that their participants work together, but there can usually be only one winner. Contestants are eliminated one by one, and most of the time it is their fellow contestants who decide who leaves. Contestants are encouraged to do whatever it takes to win: lying, backstabbing, slander, and the forming of temporary “alliances” are among the tricks used to get ahead. Contestants on Boot Camp, a reality show with a military theme, would frequently try to gather support from as many people as they could to vote off a specific person. [Excellent concrete example to illustrate your point.] Because these shows are supposedly unscripted, all of the deceit is real. Does all of this have any impact on the contestants? It would seem so. Any number of contestants can be seen flying into fits of rage or bursting into tears. The negative traits of humanity are proudly on display here, all for the pleasure of those who watch. [Nice use of sarcasm to end the paragraph and tie back to your thesis that these shows have little redeeming value.]

If the contestants don’t rip each other apart [good transition phrase to move into your next point], then the people behind the programs will. In some shows, inflicting emotional damage on those involved is a big part of the show’s appeal. One of the best examples of this is American Idol. A few years back, Fox executives ordered an expedition into the sewers of England to find the most vile being they possibly could [more fun sarcasm!]. Their search turned up a half man-half gimmick named Simon. They brought him up to the surface and made him a judge on American Idol. His purpose is to viciously tear into anyone who doesn’t meet his standards. Fox’s American Idol website provides a nice little page featuring a collection of audio samples where you can “relive some of your favorite Simon moments.” The way this page is presented (and just the fact that it exists at all) gives some insight into what they had in mind when they asked him to be a judge. None of the comments are positive of course, and I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t have an effect on those at the receiving end. He was chosen because they knew he would be especially hard on the contestants, which would give people a reason to watch. Any negative effects on the contestants are of little concern to anyone. [Another strong, well-developed paragraph. Your example is specific, and you explain how it supports your point well.]

So does not being able to sing at a professional level really warrant that much verbal abuse? I don’t think that it does, but a lot of people would disagree. They’re annoyed when someone who they don’t like starts singing, and Simon’s enraged wailing provides a catharsis for the viewer. I guess he’s popular for the same reasons that Judge Judy and her ilk were popular: He yells at people a lot. A visit to the American Idol page of jumptheshark.com (a site where people can post their thoughts on various television shows) will reveal that a lot of the people who watch the show watch it only to hear what sort of crazy things Simon will say, which doesn’t say much for the show itself. If the contestants are that annoying, then perhaps the best thing to do is to not watch the show. Supporting a show that relies on something as simplistic as the lunacy of some guy who hates all of the contestants by watching it, even after admitting that the show really isn’t that good, seems foolish. [Last sentence is a bit confusing, and less persuasive than it could be].

Some would probably say that these contestants know what they’re getting into when they ask to be in these shows, so any of the damage done is their responsibility. [Good – you introduce an opposing viewpoint on the effects of reality television, so that you can then counter that viewpoint]. However, an article on About.com suggests that this isn’t the case in some shows: “Many, however, have contestants who volunteer and sign releases - so aren't they getting what they deserve? Not necessarily. Releases don't necessarily explain everything that will happen and some are pressured to sign new releases part way through a show in order to have a chance at winning” (“Ethics of Reality TV . . .”). In addition to what goes on behind the scenes, there are some more visible examples of contestants not being told everything. There are plenty of shows that rely on surprising their contestants so obviously they won’t be told about these surprises. One of the more obvious examples of this is Joe Millionaire, where a big part of the show is the surprise the winner receives when she finds out that the show’s millionaire isn’t a millionaire after all. I’m sure that wasn’t in anything the contestants signed.

There is also some concern that contestants aren’t emotionally prepared for what they’ll encounter when they participate in a show. [Another good point.] A BBC News article reported that psychologist Oliver James is concerned about the participants in Reality TV programs: “Speaking at the Guardian Edinburgh TV Festival, Dr James said he feared that people could be ‘damaged’ by taking part in programmes like Big Brother and Temptation Island. Dr James said he had spoken to a number of those who had taken part in reality TV shows and he felt they were not aware of the impact their participation would have on their lives” (“Reality TV under fire”). [This quote provides good support for your point, but since it’s lengthy, it needs to be formatted as a block quote.] People say things that they supposedly don’t really mean all the time, and they do this while on reality shows too. Saying something embarrassing is bad enough in the first place, but I imagine that the humiliation would be even greater when you realize that millions of people could have heard what you just said. That same BBC News article had a BBC One controller who said “many participants did not realise the impact of what they say on camera when it was screened on TV” (“Reality TV under fire”). Of course, it’s this sort of thing that the networks are relying on to make these shows interesting.

Another important but also potentially harmful part of reality shows is their gradual rise in intensity. Like another form of voyeuristic television, talk shows, the newer reality shows are pushing boundaries. Originally it was just watching a group of people living together, but now we’re seeing complete strangers getting married, facial reconstruction in all its graphic glory, and autopsies [good, shocking examples to prove your point]. A group of four kids from Las Vegas, however, are outdoing all of them with a show called Bum Fights where homeless people are paid to fight each other, among other things (plenty of details can be found at www.bumfights.com). [Wow!] An article from Impact Weekly gives a description of some of their other activities: “ . . . so the video excursions escalated to include such moments as our boys urinating into a beer bottle and giving it to a homeless man to drink. . . For extra laughs, they sneak up on sleeping homeless men and spray paint them, beat them, tie them up and humiliate them endlessly” (Copp). Could mainstream television escalate to this level? [Good question – this is shocking, disturbing stuff. You’re driving your argument home.] Despite its limited availability, Bum Fights has sold over 300,000 copies, and the website boasts about being “the world’s fastest selling independent video series,” so it’s clear that more than a handful of people are into this sort of thing. Then there’s also the popular Faces of Death series of videos, which feature people being killed in various situations, although some of the deaths are faked (others such as Traces of Death, are all real). If this kind of stuff ever is shown in the mainstream, it probably won’t be for quite some time, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it eventually happened.

The popularity of Reality TV has had some fairly interesting (although not very encouraging) results. It seems that a lot of people are getting caught up in it and I can’t help but feel that this obsession is unhealthy. During the first season of American Idol, over 100 million votes were cast (“Kelly Is ‘American Idol’”). According to CNN’s election statistics page, around 105 million votes were cast in the 2000 presidential election. [Great use of statistics to make your point]. Of course, the same person could vote in more than one episode of American Idol, so it’s unclear how many individual people voted, but that’s still a high number. However, the second season of American Idol received over 250 million votes, with the final episode alone bringing in over 24 million (“Ruben is America’s Idol”). Although this number could have been higher had FOX been able to handle all of the calls they were getting. Verizon and SBC reported that they each had around 115 million more calls than usual on the day of the final episode of American Idol 2 (Graham). The fact that a mere reality show could come that close to such a big election says a lot about the popularity of reality TV. Maybe this stuff is a little too interesting for our own good. [Good sentence to sum up the paragraph, though of course you can’t prove that if people didn’t watch reality TV, they’d follow politics instead.]

The harm in reality TV is felt in more than just those involved in the shows. When you have something as popular as Survivor, other networks are going to want to copy that success. Just look at how many new reality series have premiered since Survivor. The number of series has grown exponentially and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. Each one takes the same basic format, makes a few modifications, repackages it, and airs it. I think it goes without saying that television networks, like any good business, are in it mainly for the money. Reality TV is a great way to get ratings (the fact that they’re so cheap to produce doesn’t hurt either), so now everyone from the major networks to the History Channel is making their own reality series, while other more original shows are downplayed.

Reality TV may seem like harmless entertainment, but it does have effects that people may not be aware of while they’re watching. [Nice reiteration of your thesis. I can tell you’re concluding your essay.] It has effects on the contestants who fiercely compete with each other to win and who are toyed with for the sake of ratings by those in charge. It gives people an addictive and useless distraction to indulge in and its success encourages the television networks to make more. Whether it eventually dies out or paves the way for something even worse, it’s left its mark on society, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Works Cited

  • Copp, Andrew. “Unreal world: Repellant social voyeurism.” Impact Weekly.
    20 Nov. 2002. Pro-Quest Alt-PressWatch. 5 Nov. 2003.
  • “Ethics of Reality TV: Should We Watch?” About.com.
    8 July. 2003. 3 Nov. 2003.
  • Graham, Jefferson. “’Idol’ voting strained nerves, nation’s telephone systems”
    USA Today. 27 May. 2003. 17 Nov. 2003.
  • “Kelly Is ‘American Idol’” CBS News. 5 Sep. 2002. 5 Nov. 2003.
  • “Reality TV under fire.” BBC News. 27 Aug. 2001. 5 Nov. 2003
  • “Ruben Is America’s Idol” BBC News. 22 May. 2003. 17 Nov. 2003.

Instructor end comment:

[This is a very well-structured, well-developed argument that would earn admiration and respect in an English 1A class. You did impressive research and use your evidence to great effect. Your paragraphs transition smoothly, your ideas are organized, and your points all come through very clearly. My only real advice is that your tone (while often wonderfully sarcastic) is at other times, a little meek. Don’t be afraid to be forceful in your argument. If you sound unsure about your claim, your reader might be as well.]

** Minor mechanical errors/typos have been corrected by the creators of CHARLIE

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