Dating back nearly six decades, the notion of reality broadcasting is not a new facet within contemporary culture. Originally introduced in 1947 by 33-year-old Allen Funt, the radio series, Candid Microphone revolutionized a new style of programming in which the creator “would simply record the beauty of everyday conversation... pure eavesdropping” (Funt & Reed, 1994, p. 26). Although this specific format was short-lived, as Funt believed these hidden recordings did not contain enough drama (Nadis, 2007). For further development, Funt engaged with his subject, provoking an unrehearsed performance that would test the virtue and character of an individual; it was this improvement that became the foundation for modern day reality television.
One year after the debut of Candid Microphone, Funt transitioned the program onto television with the release of Candid Camera, and achieved international success during the 1950’s and 1960’s (Nadis, 2007). Released following the Cold War, when fear of national security was at its peak, “Funt’s use of surveillance for entertainment, address[ed] the public’s concern about threats to privacy in a time of rampant paranoia” (Nadis, 2007, p. 13), and made light of the situation coining the popular phrase, “Smile, You’re on Candid Camera.”
The success of Candid Camera, which remained on national networks until the early 2000’s, was evident as it “appealed to broadcasters because it was inexpensive, it appealed to audiences because it was amusing, and it appealed to intellectuals because it was a curious hybrid” (Nadis, 2007, p. 18). However, it was also highly criticized for its invasive and exploitive nature which demeaned its subject for the amusement of an audience (Nadis, 2007). This addresses the ethical issues of privacy and reputation. Is it ethical to invade an individual’s privacy for the purpose of entertainment? What if this individual’s reputation was tarnished as a result? Who is to blame? These questions transition the focus of my paper onto the ethical dilemma surrounding reality television and the content which is exhibited within these programs, as well as the format in which these storylines are presented. I will also focus on the behaviour of these individuals and how their publicized actions transcend into our normalized culture. For these reasons, I have chosen to construct my argument by addressing the negative influence of reality television as categorized according to the physical, emotional and behavioural impact on the female gender. I will then address the production process of these programs, explaining the casting, scripting and editing procedures which are undergone prior to airing. This process raises the question: If these programs are manipulated during production, then are they truly an accurate representation of reality? And if these programs are not authentic, should they continue to be labelled as such?
Within my analysis I will evaluate the genre of reality television using Michael Davis’
8-Question Ethical Framework as the foundation for my argument and conclusions. Originally proposed in 1997, and later edited in 2008, this framework carries the issue, reality television, through 8 steps in which it is considered from different viewpoints, questioning characteristics including virtue, harm and professionalism. The questions above have been raised as a starting point for this analysis, and a complete breakdown within the framework will be provided following my key argumentative points (S. Lauricella, COMM 3110 lecture, November 7, 2013).
Defined as “television programs in which real people are continuously filmed, designed to be entertaining rather than informative,” (“Reality TV”, n.d.), the presence of reality television in pop culture has dramatically increased since the turn of the millennium. In the year 2000, there were approximately four reality television programs on national broadcasting networks.