Lots of people joke about reality TV being the end of civilization, and many of them are us, but we weren't really worried. Until we found out what scientists were saying. Hard data and scientific papers spell out exactly how reality television is undoing civilized society, aka "the thing that keeps us from killing and eating each other for fun."
"Why People Watch Reality TV"
Professor Steven Reiss, Dr. James Wiltz
Ohio State University
Media Psychology, 6, 363-378 (2004)
For years, scientists have been trying to answer the question, "Why do people watch reality TV?" -- a question that was revised to "WHYYYYY? Oh my God, why are they doing this?" sometime around the premiere ofA Shot at Love With Tila Tequila.
There had better be a damn good reason for this.
The early money in academic circles was on voyeurism. Watching strangers interact with one another on TV seemed to appeal to humanity's inner Peeping Tom. However, voyeurism implies that the people you're watching don't know they're being watched. Reality TV stars were only getting more self-aware, and the ratings were only growing.
Deciding it was time to go back to the drawing board, two idealistic Ohio State researchers decided to compare viewing behaviors and personality profiles using Aristotle's model of the human soul. It was at this point that they discovered, to their horror, that the voyeur theory wasn't too cynical. In fact, when it comes to why we watch reality TV, the theory equating a large swath of humanity with lonely men masturbating in trees wasn't cynical enough.
Way to make humanity look like complete assholes, SCIENCE.
The adult fans of reality TV whose personalities they mapped ended up having pretty much all the worst traits possible. Professor Reiss himself writes that "the people who watched reality television had above-average trait motivation to feel self-important and, to a lesser extent, vindicated, friendly [and] free of morality." If each personality profile was a different Christian Bale character, Patrick Bateman would be the model reality TV viewer.
Their theory was that reality TV was essentially the antidote to self-improvement: Instead of feeling better about yourself by achieving anything, you can just watch the worst possible humans fawn over Flava Flav for half an hour! It's like a Hot Pocket for your self-esteem -- quick, easy and overall bad for you.
In an objective, scientific sense, listening to this man talk erodes your soul.
The study also found that those who watched reality TV were far more concerned with social status and vengeance, and significantly less motivated by idealism, morality or honor. In other words, asking people whether they watch My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance is a great way to discover who'll be wearing the leather after Mad Max happens.
His Reiss Profile "social status" score is Humongous.
"The reality of reality television: Does reality TV influence local crime rates?"
Professor Lesley Chiou, Professor Mary Lopez
Department of Economics, Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA, United States
Economics Letters 108 (2010), 330-333
The problem with academia is that it tends to lag behind the latest trends by a few years. For instance, we couldn't find any scientists who had undertaken research on Jersey Shore, or at least none who hadn't immediately switched to researching interplanetary travel. The closest we came was an expert on viral weaponry who disappeared while researching Snooki, leaving behind only a voice mail message that said, "Call me when she decides she can sing. I'll be ready."
Her YouTube page may be the most convincing argument against the existence of a loving god.
Unfortunately, that lag might mean it may already be too late. While we're not saying reality TV causes an immediate decay in any societies it directly impacts, that's exactly what two Occidental College professors found last year with their statistical analysis of the reality show Laguna Beach. One part of their analysis compared the titular setting of the reality show with the statistically similar, but relatively untelevised, town of Dana Point.
While Dana Point's crime rate continued to drop along with the rest of America's throughout the 2000s, being the setting of a reality show acted as a spring board for crimes like "burglary, robbery, rape, auto theft, and larceny" in Laguna Beach. One theory is that the region was flooded with people who wanted to either be like the rich idiots on the show or take advantage of them. Another posited that the criminal underground has no respect for life, law or property but has a well-developed sense of justice against that bitch Alex.
Of course, one graph doesn't imply causality. Still, it's worth noting that the professors applied more statistical analysis to Laguna Beach than early scientists did to powered flight. For instance:
The existence of a mathematical equation involving Laguna Beach just lowered IQ.
Not anybody's in particular; the idea of IQ itself was lowered by this equation.
Their conclusion? "We find suggestive evidence that non-residential burglaries, auto thefts, and rapes increased during the period following the show's debut." TV doesn't just appeal to Mad Max types -- it's actually causing them.
A future gated community.
Of course, that's only the specific location where the show was filmed. As long as we're not watching Jersey Shore while sitting on the Jersey Shore, it's safe to sit back and watch it from a distance, right?
"The Influence of Plastic Surgery 'Reality TV' on Cosmetic Surgery Patient Expectations and Decision Making"
Richard J. Crockett, M.D.,Thomas Pruzinsky, Ph.D.,John A. Persing, M.D.
"A correlational and experimental examination of reality television viewing and interest in cosmetic surgery"
Charlotte N. Markey, Patrick M. Markey
People watch these shows and talk about them -- that just means they're both bored and boring, right? Surely they don't take them seriously? On a scale of seriousness, from "1" to "Getting themselves cut open with knives," two studies show that fans of reality TV take what they're watching extremely seriously.
A survey of first-time plastic surgery patients found that 78 percent were influenced by reality television, and 57 percent of all first-time patients were "high-intensity" viewers of cosmetic surgery reality TV.
The fact that that's even a genre will cost us dearly when the transmissions reach more advanced alien species.
The paper discussed "widespread unease" the how many people were getting plastic surgery because of these programs. Worth noting: This paper appeared in a journal by, for and dedicated to people who make their living performing plastic surgery. They routinely patch up victims of motorbike crashes and industrial machinery, and the reason for getting plastic surgery they're most scared of is reality TV. Probably because using artificial means to become more like reality TV contestants is the exact opposite of evolution.
Above: The fittest?
This isn't just normal vanity, or an obvious correlation like how people interested in surgery would watch the shows. Another study, this one involving 189 people, found that those merely "exposed" to Extreme Makeover (note that the scientists referred to the show the same way they'd refer to nuclear waste) were more likely to want surgery. After only 20 minutes, a group watching Extreme Makeover was measurably more interested in surgery compared with a control group watching Sell This House. Unfortunately, no data were collected on the frivolous purchases of unused power tools by the second group.
Terrifyingly, the study showed that the people's self-esteem, gender or happiness with their looks didn't affect how much the show influenced them. The only thing that mattered was whether they'd watched the show.
"Boy, having someone slice off sections of my face sure seems more bearable than watching this show."