Sexuality and Reality TV

The topic of sexuality in society today is prevalent and lacks no form of ambiguity, especially in specific areas of media like reality TV. On various networks of television, viewers sit back and unknowingly watch a biased network that seems to only advertise and encourage the heterosexuality lifestyle. Shows including “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” promote an individual’s pursuit to find love and happiness, however, only with the opposite sex. Networks like ABC and NBC affect various ages in comparison to networks like MTV, which strictly affects the younger, more open-minded, and flexible generation. The argument presented here is that society rarely sees reality TV depicted as what it should be, open to homosexual, heterosexual, and transsexual parties. There is an invisibility of alternatives for heterosexuality in reality TV. Society is not given the opportunity to experience all forms of sexuality, which limits the heterosexual society in an effort to become versatile and changing the idea of “social norms”.

American generations have become accustomed and immune to the different cultures and sexualities surrounding them. But who is to blame? Hollywood’s significant contribution to media and reality TV plays a big part in influencing society and younger generations. However, heterosexuality is the only form of sexuality that is consistently promoted and supported for viewers to watch. It seems a serious dilemma is occurring without any form of acknowledgement or recognition. With so much effort to conform the social norms and to embrace all forms of sexuality, society is limited by what companies create for an audience to access. If heterosexuality is the only thing that is available for viewers to watch, then heterosexuality is what will be consumed and recognized.

In discussing and analyzing shows like “The Bachelor”, the conflict between whether or not these shows promote strictly heterosexuality is broadened and more generalized. The problem expands from whether or not these shows promote only heterosexual relationships to whether or not if reality TV only shows specific kinds of heterosexual relationships (e.g. courtship, engagement, marriage). In most reality TV, viewers experience typical relationships, ones where there is the typical routine of courting, engagement, then (most commonly) marriage. Rarely does reality TV stray from what is expected out of a classic heterosexual relationship. It seems to be that the actual “reality” of reality TV has been constructed to an extreme.
Reality TV including shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is considered “nonnormative heterosexuality”, because it reinforces the queer lifestyle as one that can be “adaptable” and “metrosexual” (McMurria 320). The purpose of this show is to help heterosexual men obtain a sense of style and modern fashion. This type of reality show involving a lifestyle other than a heterosexual lifestyle, exists solely to give society an idea of what a homosexual lifestyle might appear to be like. The homosexual characters are represented to help average heterosexual people who are in need of some form of self-reformation. However, the mediocre ratings of this show do not compare with the stellar ravings of The Bachelorette. Why is that? Queer Eye for the Straight Guy involves a different type of sexuality, one that steers away from the norm, but even still, society chooses to stick with the heterosexual consistency in shows like Big Brother and The Bachelor.

As a viewer, it is crucial to think about how networks portray their subjects on the specific show; for example, in an Australian reality TV show called There’s Something About Miriam, the public watched as Miriam, a young female contends for the love of six different bachelors. However, the show throws in an unexpected twist revealing that Miriam is actually a “pre-operative” transsexual. Although she had previously revealed this on Australia’s version of Big Brother, the six contestants vying for her love were unaware of this (Lewis 203). It is clear that the network producing this show had intentions that were in their own best interest. As a TV network, obviously high ratings are a vital factor to success, so in order to obtain that success it seems that networks must give the public what they want, or in some cases, what they don’t know they want. Viewers are looking for something out of the norm, cases that are different and differ from the typical everyday social statuses. Lewis quotes John Sloop in his article in discussing the effects of when something out of the ordinary is displayed, “In mainstream public arguments a transgendered person becomes a foil for reiterating and reaffirming the gender and sexual norms of contemporary culture” (Sloop 2004). Sloop is referring to the idea that in today’s culture, a transgendered person is going to be a main character in public debates, which only further confirms the idea of what is normal in terms of sexuality. Networks portray specific characters and subjects for certain purposes and to achieve better ratings. In There’s Something About Miriam, the network decided to really utilize how different she was, instead of depicting her as what society labels as “normal”. Teck analyzes the struggles in the lack of homosexuality exposure in American society. He writes, “Such an assumption (that females are heterosexual, despite their decision to be transgender) proceeds from a historical lack of media representations of non-heterosexual transwomen in the media, even though a large proportion of transsexual women are either bi or lesbian identified.” (245). These unexpected deviances from normal status and common expectations are utilized to draw in more viewers and increase the notoriety of the network. It is clear that the point of creating this show was not to support any form of transgender situation or circumstance, it was to draw out a shocked response from whoever the winner was (Boynton). The ill intent displayed through this tactic elicited a poor response from LGBT communities worldwide.

Heterosexual relationships are not the only flaw with reality TV. In 2008, Thomas Beatie, a transgender male, gave birth to his first daughter. Beatie is also known as the pregnant man displayed on the infamous Discovery Channel. He was displayed for all to see as some sort of a mystical creature or some new medical discovery. He and his wife were ridiculed and critiqued for their choice in having him bear the pregnancy. Religious Christian communities called Thomas “confused” and made no effort to jump at his transgender identity (Boggs). This further reaffirms the claim that despite how this couple made the decision to do something completely different from what society says is acceptable, they experienced an outrage from society. It becomes difficult to distinguish whether or not society’s outrage is a result of how the media/reality TV portrays their story or because of the standards they set through other various reality TV shows. Viewers can’t help but be curious as to whether or not, if Hollywood started creating more reality TV with transgender and homosexual roles if society would become more accustomed and let it slowly morph into a part of “normal” society.

In Turner’s article discussing the mass production of celebrities, he writes about “the explosion of reality TV…and so-called reality-based game shows has significantly enhanced television’s demand for ordinary people desiring celebrification.” (155). Although Turner’s article mainly discusses the new fad of the “normal celebrity” (an average person, somehow obtaining fame without any sort of real talent), he makes a valid point when he writes about how much of society does actually desire “celebrification” (156). Perhaps since celebrification is the new trend, this is what sparks many of the heterosexuality society to step forward and put themselves out there for millions of viewers to critique them. It seems standard that someone of a homosexual or transgender lifestyle would not want to display their lives for the public to view in fear of rejection, hostility, and harsh criticism. This idea ties back to Thomas Beatie and his family’s choice to let him bear the pregnancy. This is a valid point that although Hollywood does play a big role in deciding what is produced, there is a possibility that finding people who live a heterosexual or transgender lifestyle to display on reality TV could be somewhat difficult. However, even though this is strictly speculation and lacks strong evidence to support this, it is very possible that Turner’s writings present some sort of backhanded idea that even though trying to obtain celebrity status may not be as difficult as imagined, people in the LGBT society still face significant worries and fears that should not be ignored by the rest of society.

In conclusion, it is clear that reality TV possesses various flaws and defects in terms of representing all types of lifestyles and sexualities. Rarely do these TV shows depict their characters as “normal” or “the same” as a heterosexual character. Hollywood and reality TV both possess an ill tendency to really make anything that deviates from heterosexuality seem outrageous and so “different”. The angle that homosexual characters are displayed in is one similar to that of some sort of crazy medical discovery or some new “thing” that is on display. There is a serious lack of equality in terms of treatment and publicity for anyone who is not a part of the heterosexuality lifestyle. Final note, reality TV further proves the claim that heterosexuality is pervasive and there is a continual absence of alternatives for other kinds of sexuality.

Words: 1664

Works Cited

Boggs, Kelly. “Baptist Press – A ‘pregnant Man’? – News with a Christian Perspective.” Baptist Press. Southern Baptist Convention, 4 Apr. 2008. Web. 22 July 2012.

Lewis, Vek. “Performing Translatinidad: Miriam the Mexican Transsexual Reality Show Star and the Tropicalization of Difference in Anglo-Australian Media.” Sexualities.sagepub.com. Sage Journals, 12 Apr. 2009. Web. 06 Aug. 2012. <http://sexualities.sagepub.com/content/12/2/225.full.pdf html>.

McMurria, John. “Desperate Citizens and Good Samaritans: Neoliberalism and Makeover Reality TV.” Television & New Media. Sage Publications, 22 Feb. 2008. Web. 06 Aug. 2012. <http://tvn.sagepub.com/content/9/4/305.full.pdf html>.

Sloop, John M. “Disciplining Gender: Rhetorics of Sex Identity in Contemporary U.S. Culture.” Sage Journals. Amherst: University of Massachusetts ., 12 Apr. 2009. Web. 5 Apr. 2012.

Turner, Graeme. “The Mass Production of Celebrity : ‘Celetoids’, Reality TV and the ‘demotic Turn'” International Journal of Cultural Studies. Sage Publications, June 2006. Web. 2 Aug. 2012. <http://ics.sagepub.com/content/9/2/153.full.pdf+html>.

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