Reality television has become one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the last twenty years, and illicits a wide range of emotions from its audiences, from pure rage, to voyeuristic shadenfreude, to fits of tears. While it can be difficult to discern the good from the bad, we’ve given it a go.
Here Comes Honey Boo Boo
A spin-off from the series Toddlers in Tiaras, in which children are dressed up with padded bras, high heels and makeup for beauty pageants, Honey Boo Boo is best known for being an overweight pageant contestant. Alana Thompson, the younger sister to three girls, was six years old when the first series was filmed in 2012 and stars in the show with her mother June “Mama” Shannon who takes care of the girls at home. Its first season was one of the highest-rated shows on TLC but is considered by most to be offensive, exploitative and outrageous – the A.V. Club called it a “horror story posing as a reality television programme”. While some commend June for her thriftiness and dedication to her children, others are concerned about the girls’ well-being – especially as Alana is fed “Go Go Juice”, a mixture of Red Bull and Mountain Dew with a caffeine content equal to two cups of coffee, before every pageant.
First it was 16 and Pregnant in 2009, and then came Teen Mom and its sequels. The original shows aims to follow pregnant teenage girls who are still in high school, putting their private lives on show in the guise of genuine concern. Each episode follows a different girl through her pregnancy until a few months after the child is born, and Teen Mom followed the young women from then.
This show served as inspiration for the 30 Rock joke series MILF Island, and it isn’t too far up. The premise is that four couples are put on an island with a group of attractive singles who are trying to encourage them to cheat on their partners as a test of the relationship. The first season, filmed in Belize was a ratings hit, even though one of the couples had to be removed because they had a child together. Luckily seasons two and three had awful ratings and since there was no prize, they lacked contestants. (Photo courtesy: Al Final de la Escapada).
Finally, a saving grace for reality television and a showcase for genuine talent. Shows like American Idol, The X Factor (and its international versions) and The Voice let us know that not all reality TV is based around awful people doing awful things. The X Factor UK is currently in its tenth series and continues to dominate the ratings, only narrowly beaten out by the celebrity reality dance show Strictly Come Dancing. These shows often feature ordinary but talented people being criticised by celebrity judges, but perhaps its biggest draw lies in the audience voting system, which makes betting on the show more exciting. Considering that online gaming on websites like the GamingClub.co.uk are becoming commonplace, it’s unsurprising that reality TV betting online has taken off so successfully.
From the horrific, manufactured disasters of Honey Boo Boo to the genuinely talented contestants of worldwide talent competitions, it’s hard to escape reality television these days. While it might not be easy at first to separate the good from the bad, they are worth looking into – who knows, you might just love Teen Moms after all.