Reality TV is profoundly relatable

Kelly Mi Li in episode 8 “Will You Marry Me?” of Bling Empire: Season 1. c. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

Each week there is a reality television show that debuts we cannot look away from. Earlier this year, I binge-watched Bling Empire on Netflix. Reality television shows always have over-the-top scenarios supported by a wealthy cast. Most of us have nothing in common with these folks but nevertheless, we are glued to the screen. There is a calming force these shows have, and I need to understand why. Reality tv is not as superfluous as we think. 


First thing is we are talking about people with a net worth in the millions and billions. If someone is in the mood for Italian food, they will get on a jet and spend the day in Tuscany. The biggest problems these folks have are making sure their home shopping appointments with couture houses don’t clash with a vampire massage. 

So why do I find myself glued and obsessed with these folks? They are an escape. Those hours spent watching them takes my mind away from my student loans. It’s ironic because I’m watching people who could never go broke across a few lifetimes. I found myself sympathising with Kim Kardashian once. You know when she cried because her diamond earring fell into the water at the luxury summer resort.


Keeping up with the Kardashians (KUWTK) has come to epitomise reality television. The Kardashian-Jenner family have imprinted largely on pop culture as well. I wasn’t surprised when an American Ivy league university offered a cultural studies course on the Kardashian family. This was years after a UK university offered a course module about David Beckham; and the phenomenon of his celebrity. 

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What these shows offer is more than just cameras following them, but insight into worlds we will never access. The point I always believe of any kind of entertainment is that it is a break from our lives. The pandemic amplified how little we relax, laugh and just zone out. Reality shows give us that. I find myself in fits of laughter when watching any Real Housewives show. Their arguments always come down to one thing; who is the better friend/hostess of a party or who has better jewellery and clothes. Before you know it everyone is at lunch with someone flipping over a table.


These types of scenes get dismissed as trashy. That is only because it is televised. If it’s going to be confirmed as trashy, then what does that make us? I know it will sound harsh but it makes us trashy voyeurs. It is amazingly relaxing to watch other people, and not have to deal with yourself and immediate surroundings. 

There is a massive franchise built around the Real Housewives. Most major American cities will have a franchise, and it follows the daily lives of these women. It’s Big Brother but with flashy cars, extraordinary holidays, flashy clothes and bling. But it’s all backed up by very real human problems we can relate to. We get to see relationship problems, parenting, health issues and even at times finance problems. I think each Real Housewives franchise has had at least one cast member have tax troubles, and even serve time in prison for it. All televised, and we lap it up.


We know of instances where reality tv producers manipulate story lines. Nothing is ever as it seems, but we get real people on our screens all the time. Trips are paid for and organised by production companies and filmed. We can never really be privy to everything. It is impossible. These shows have always been accused of being low culture. 


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I don’t think there is a difference between low and high culture. These shows have mass appeal with record-breaking viewership numbers. But most importantly they entertain. They make us laugh and cry with them. We find ourselves concerned when a real human issue is being televised. It is because we relate to all the insecurities and arguments on display. The only difference is our bank balances. 

There might not be a camera crew following any of us, but we are stars of our own reality shows. As the Gen Z’s say it’s bringing that “main character energy”. We update our social media, we post videos and make mini-stories on our devices. To what end? So that people can hear us, view us, aspire, relate and be entertained.