Why it matters if reality TV is real or not

Of all the fallout after last week’s revelation that House Hunters is often faked, I was most bothered by two reactions that I have heard over and over and over again during the two decades–20 years!–since the dawn of reality television in the form of The Real World.

Those responses: 1) All reality TV is fake, and 2) It doesn’t matter if reality TV is real or not. Both are bullshit, and I explain why in this essay for The Daily Beast.

There are some people who will insist that all or nearly all reality shows are fake, or are scripted, or use actors, or whatever. That’s moronic and sounds so ignorant it’s sad, but it’s an easy way of avoiding critical thinking. The truth is there’s great diversity in reality TV, from the fakey fake fake to the brutally real, and how real or fake a show is depends upon so many different factors that it’d take a book to identify them all.

More importantly, however, is that it really does matter when reality TV isn’t real, because the label “reality TV” has meaning that changes our relationship to the show.

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