How Reality TV Has Shaped Pop Culture


Rachel Ehly

Reality TV has become an almost crucial part of 21st-century American culture. From shows that center around baked goods to people fighting to find the love of their life, reality TV has it all. For a genre so expansive, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes reality TV so popular. There are so many different subgenres within the broad group that make it hard for people to differentiate between the separate types of shows. The vastness of it also allows more and more people to find something they love in the world of reality TV. One of the most common things people love, however, is the reactions that are found within the shows. 

People love to see big reactions to anything, no matter how impactful they are. This is exactly what makes reality TV shows popular, Big reactions bring big bucks. Most reality TV stars know that the more they react, the more they’ll get paid. Some of the world’s favorite viral moments from the past 3 years have come from reality shows. Kim Kardashian, for example, has had her fair share of viral moments over the past 10 years, with most of them coming from the reality TV show she stars in alongside her family Keeping Up With the Kardashians

Along with producing big reactions, reality TV has also come to produce some of the best stars in the past 20 years. Shows like The X-Factor and American Idol have helped create stars like One Direction, Kelly Clarkson, and Jennifer Hudson. While most people don’t see these shows as reality TV, they most certainly are. Contest shows — such as those previously mentioned — often follow the lives of the contestants as they navigate their potential fame. This is the aspect that correlates with being categorized as reality TV. The genre is centered around real people navigating their lives (usually with immense amounts of fame). This is what makes talent competition shows such as these similar to other well-known reality TV shows. 

Shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians, The Bachelor (and its counterpart, The Bachelorette), American Idol, RuPaul’s Drag Race, The Real Housewives franchise and its 57 installments and spinoffs, Project Runway, and so many more all focus on real people with real emotions. While a lot of the emotional reactions on the show are over-exaggerated, many people can relate to them in some way. They’re somewhat real.  All of these shows are considered to be reality TV, and all of these shows have shown to have a greater cultural impact than most people give them credit for. 

Reality TV has not only shaped the pop culture that we are familiar with today, but it has also evolved to be in the center of it. Though as years pass by, this is becoming less and less prominent. The dramatic flare of reality TV is being taken over by internet content creators. While reality TV stars are scarcely heard of today, the impact that they had on popular culture in the 2000s and 2010s will always be there.