Super Nanny - Reality show

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‘Criticism and respect disappear in the culture industry; the former becomes a mechanical expertise, the latter is succeeded by a shallow cult of personalities’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, The Culture Industries). To what extent does the rise of reality TV support Adorno and Horkheimer’s statement? Within this essay I will explore the genre of Reality TV by drawing upon Adorno & Horkheimer’s theory on the ‘culture industry’. Firstly, I will begin by defining Reality TV, looking at its historical, cultural and social significance alongside the controversies surrounding the genre.

Secondly I will investigate Adorno and Horkheimer’s statement by looking at the morality and standardization that exist within Reality TV, highlighting the ‘attributed’ celebrity (‘celetoid’), voyeurism and general erosion of public and private spheres. Over the last decade, we have witnessed a dramatic shift in the popularity of television shows. Primetime TV was generally reserved for soap operas, series dramas and comedy shows. However, the digital revolution gave room for channels to be more flexible in their screening, with more channels offering different possibilities for the direction of popular culture.

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The general rise of Reality TV

This led to the general rise of Reality TV and the desertion of blatant escapism in dramas and soap operas to a less carefully constructed form of escapism through judgment and interactivity. Gradually, programming with real people and real emotions presented in the form of ‘factually-based light entertainment’ (Brunson et al. , 2001: Hill, 2002) began to take over primetime slots. In its fundamental format Reality TV is a wide genre, encompassing many sub-genres.

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Its basic principle is that it involves ordinary people as themselves and not fictional characters that have been tailored to audience needs.

With shows having no need for actors, scriptwriters or even sometimes TV studios there is a low cost to production and arguably a low quality to shows. Reality TV includes dating shows, lifestyle shows, competition based shows, talk shows, hidden camera shows and more. One of the most popular sub-genres of Reality TV that is often featured in primetime hours is the ‘docusoap’, otherwise known as ‘fly on the wall’ reality TV (Holmes, 2004). These are shows that follow either a single person or a group of people around in their everyday lives.

There is a strong focus in these types of programs to allow viewers to see the everyday drama that goes on in a person’s life. One popular example is, ‘Airline’, a show following the lives of people that work at airports across Britain. Documenting the problems the workers face. This is generally uncooperative people and flight delays. However, entertainment is derived from the stress and anger expressed in these problematic situations, often to the point where people are in tears. Is it ethically right to be entertained like this?

‘Super Nanny’ and ‘Brat Camp’

Similarly, shows like ‘Super Nanny’ and ‘Brat Camp’ document in a similar fashion but in a more predictable structure. They focus on family problems between parents and children and teenage anger issues. We then watch the steps taken to repair these problems, the relapses and then ‘recovery’. Leaving us feeling that these people are now much better off because of this show, but essentially their problems, private issues and struggles entertained us. It is very much like watching private therapy sessions and then following the patient and seeing if he recovers, but knowing that he inevitably will (which is probably a TV show already).

The justification to our viewing of these types of programs seems to reside in the satisfactory end result, almost making us not even realize that someone’s private life has just been laid bare in all its psychological dysfunction. This narrative structure can also be seen as parallel to the end part of Todorov’s movie narrative theory where main part of the story is disequilibrium, but it always ends in equilibrium. Another popular Reality TV sub-genre is the game show. This tends to utilize interactivity with the audience by giving a sense of control over winners.


Classic examples include shows like ‘Big Brother’, ‘X-Factor’ and ‘I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! ‘ These all present viewers with a range of ways to choose who they want to win the show and some even give viewers the ability to choose who they want to perform challenges. The most popular Reality TV show in Britain is ‘Big Brother’. This can be seen to have acted as a catalyst towards the rise of the genre (Turner, 2006). (Cleverly using the Orwell term in the novel ‘1984’, where ‘Big Brother’ is the authority in a futuristic totalitarian society based on control of thought.)

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Super Nanny - Reality show. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Super Nanny - Reality show

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