The same people who brag about having seen every episode of “Friday Night Lights” will brag, too, that they have never laid eyes on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” Reality television is the television of television.
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“I think we need a new name for it,” she wrote, and in the past decade we have mainly settled on “reality television,” although not without trepidation.
“Reality” is, if not quite a misnomer, a provocation—a reminder of the various constraints and compromises that define the form.
Certainly, “reality television” is an amorphous category; Mark Andrejevic, a cultural theorist, notes that “there isn’t any one definition that would both capture all the existing genres and exclude other forms of programming such as the nightly news or daytime game shows.” If Mead were alive today, she might be surprised at the diversity of the form, which has proved equally hospitable to glamorous competitions, like “American Idol,” and to homely documentaries, like “Pawn Stars,” which depicts the staff and clientele of a Las Vegas pawnshop.