The Reality of Reality TV

Rebecca - Wheeling, West Virginia
Entered on April 14, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe in reality TV. I may stand alone with what I am about to say, but I believe that reality TV, although unconventional, is valuable education. Let’s be honest; would I really learn about hair transplants, trebuchets, and photography from any classroom? Not likely. Reality TV ranges from modeling competitions to surgery shows, stories about the lives of handicapped families to drama about the tedious task of raising multiples. Reality TV teaches me about people who are different from me and come from different parts of the world. But, when observing their jobs, their competitiveness, or even their lives, I learn the most interesting things.

Watching Little People, Big World, a show about a family of dwarfs, I was intrigued when the father mentioned building a trebuchet to launch pumpkins. First hearing this, I thought, “trebu-what?,” because I’d never read anything about the Middle Ages-inspired launching machine in history class. After gazing at the splattered pumpkin that had soared across the family’s yard, I anxiously researched more about the oddly-named machine. The show also exposes the medical conditions of the family dwarfs, including diastrophic dysplasia and achondroplasia, conditions I’d never heard of before.

But that’s not all. Reality shows such as Dr. 90210 teach me about forms of anesthesia, incision techniques, and how doctors might refuse to operate on patients who need more fat on their bodies for a successful operation. I’ve watched Dr. Jason Diamond of Dr. 90210 explain the rhinoplasty procedure while he performs it. Witnessing him slice cartilage with a scalpel makes the procedure become simple to understand because I actually get to watch it happen in the moment instead of reading about it in a textbook. Plus, the medical jargon intimidation factor is removed, and I am drawn to understand these medical procedures that I observe.

Even the artistic side of reality TV that may seem vain—shows like America’s Next Top Model—carry valuable lessons. Observing the differences in photography and modeling for editorial magazines and commercial shoots, I now recognize that what is often considered a “superficial industry” is far more complex than it seems. Nigel Barker, photographer and former model, often explains the art of modeling and photography as one. His lessons about how proper angles, light, and perspective can make or break a picture have influenced my own interests in photography and layout. Although I’m in an art class, learning about photography in a unique way helps me to improve perspective.

Don’t get me wrong, learning in a classroom definitely has an esteemed place in education. But sometimes, the unorthodox approach of reality TV opens my mind to knowledge unattainable in a classroom. Building a trebuchet, performing a rhinoplasty, and the best lighting for a photo shoot might seem like random pieces of information. And they are. But sometimes, the most random bits of knowledge are the ones I remember best. And why not learn them through reality TV?