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James Poniewozik, “Reality TV at 10: How It’s Changed Television – and Us” Essay

Reality programs can be divided into two large categories: competitions (such as American Idol) and voyeuristic events (such as Real Housewives). The reality television phenomenon is part of a larger societal shift in terms of privacy and self-expression. For a select few, reality shows have given them significant real-life opportunities. Reality programs contain qualities that can be labeled American. The best and worst of reality television shows contain aspirational and democratic qualities. They give the common man a chance in the spot light.

They can also revolve around issues, such as job satisfaction and security, which are of topical concern to many Americans. Part 2: The experience of watching the video of the Susan Boyle’s first appearance on Britain’s Got Talent illustrates very clearly one of Steven Johnson’s arguments in his article “Watching TV Makes You Smarter”: “When we watch these shows, the part of our brain that monitors the emotional lives of the people around us – the part that tracks subtle shifts in intonation and gesture and facial expression – scrutinizes the action on the screen looking for clues.

” We see very clearly Simon Cowell’s eye-rolling at :30, in response to Boyle’s announcement that she is 47 years old. After Boyle announces that her dream is to be a professional singer, there is a cut to a young woman in the audience who smirks and rolls her eyes. When Boyle remarks that she wants to be as successful as Elaine Page, there is another cut to the audience to show their disbelief. All of this occurs before Boyle even begins to sing. The audience and the judges, through their facial expressions, have clearly indicated that they believe Boyle to be delusional.

As soon as Boyle opens her mouth, cameras focus on the judges’ wide eyes and the microphones pick up the audiences’ wild cheers. The commentator echoes the audiences’ initial impressions: “you didn’t expect that did you. ” This sentiment is directly addressed by the judges in their commentary: Boyle is referred to as the “biggest surprise” in the show’s history. Cowell’s comments are filled with irony: he says that he knew as soon as he saw Boyle that he was in for something “extraordinary. ” Watching this video at a later date is instructive.

Now, there are very few people who do not know of Susan Boyle and her story. However, in looking at this video from her first appearance on the show, we know that her voice is going to be amazing. With all of the benefits of hindsight, we can observe closely the audience’s and judges’ first reactions to this middle-aged woman in need of a makeover (by the standards of reality television). We can engage our cognitive processes, as Johnson argues, in order to analyze more closely how we can be deceived by our first impressions of reality show personalities.


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