Reality check

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The Kardashian’s are the royal family of reality television, their show Keeping up with the Kardashians has run for almost 15 years.

12-year-olds from the show “Dance Moms” tour the globe making seven-digit salaries, “X-Factor” forced five boys to form a friendship that changed the term boy band forever, and the original “Celebrity Apprentice” host even became the 45th president of the United States. 

The tribe has spoken; reality television has taken over. Reality TV’s popularity has always been slammed for its lack of educational content. Some encourage negative behaviors, but television does not need to be educational to be beneficial. This is not to excuse Scott Disick’s constant partying and drug abuse. However, reality television programs provide a platform for people to speak out on important social causes and learn meaningful lessons.

While many argue that “Keeping up with the Kardashian’s” is a source of mindless garbage, it proves itself to be more than drama. In recent seasons of the show. Kim Kardashian-West’s prison reform work was highlighted; Kardashian-West worked with #Cut50, a group based in Washington DC, to release wrongly convicted prisoners. She even went as far as meeting with President Donald Trump to advocate a commuted sentence for Alice Marie, an elderly woman who was given life in prison on a drug charge 21 years ago. 

This process was all documented on the Kardashians’ popular reality television program and even turned into a spin-off documentary called “Justice Project.” Kim Kardashian was able to bring attention to topics like the justice system’s flaws that viewers might not have cared about otherwise. Sure, this lesson was wedged between an argument with Kourtney over sugar-free candy and Khloe’s baby daddy drama, but it was an important lesson, just wrapped in a reality-TV gift box. 

Bravo’s “Below Deck” encouraged female empowerment in the workplace. “Below Deck”, a show about the day-to-day lives of superyacht employees. In season seven, a group of men on the ship treated the female stewardesses horribly. In particular, one was Ashton Pienaar, the lead deckhand in charge of the boat’s maintenance. During the season, Pineaar confronted the chief stew Kate Chastain in numerous drunken attacks after bar outings. One included Pinearr attempting to physically strike Chastain in a van before being pulled off by another crew member. Despite this traumatizing event, Chastain continued to work on the ship in a leadership position side by side with Pinearr. While women are not expected to stay in toxic environments, it displays courage and perseverance from a strong female for an audience of young women.  The show outlines how a girl can kick butt in an industry that constantly spits in their face. These women have to deal with crabby guests, misogynistic deckhands, demanding captains, and piles of laundry while wearing a mini skirt the size of a large headband. Minus the occasional drunken outbursts, these ladies make a great example for young girls to look up to. 

Shows such as “Top Chef” gave the LGBTQ community an outlet before it was common to do so. One of the most compelling examples of this was during season six of Top Chef Las Vegas, in 2009, when the nation was still widely debating the legalization of same-sex marriage. In one of the Las Vegas episodes, the chefs catered a bachelor and bachelorette party. A contestant on the show, Ashley Merriman, protested this, claiming it was “beyond comprehension” that they were given this challenge when she and other contestants were not legally allowed to marry the people they love and have their own bachelorette party. Her complaints may have come after a brutal loss for the female chefs, but her message was important all the same. During this time, other shows were afraid to openly discuss this topic because it was still debated, but Top Chef gave Merriman a platform on a national scale to discuss her concerns. 

 This was not the first time they discussed the issue on the show. In 2008, “Top Chef” in Chicago featured a same-sex couple competing together.  When some were unsure of same-sex relationships, “Top Chef showcased to their audiences how two women in a relationship is no different than a man and a woman in a relationship. They have gone on to cast numerous LGBTQ chefs each season, accurately depicting the demographics of people working in the culinary industry and the world. The show put their relationship through the wringer, and I would not be surprised if they broke up soon after, but for a topic so taboo ten years ago, this couple educated audiences on something incredibly meaningful and ahead of its time.

Even ‘trashy’ shows like the “Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” can offer some value to viewers. Sure, the show is filled with producer manufactured drama, but between the sobs and broken champagne glasses, there are things to be learned. There are a lot of crazy contestants on the show, but they all try to mask their madness with fake smiles and hair gel. The show’s many ups and downs can teach viewers what to avoid in relationships. Season 18’s bachelor Juan Pablo treated potential female suitors like trash, and Bachelor Nation never let him live it down. True Bachelor fans can tell the warning signs of a bad relationship because the show conditions them to question shady behavior. 

At the end of the day, these productions make people happy and facilitate a conversation with coworkers and grandmothers alike. Reality TV may not be created to teach audiences, but it would be ignorant to disregard these shows.  Hidden beneath some of the junk are important values that everyone can learn from.

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