Reality TV: does art imitate life or does life imitate art?

‘The Real Housewives of D.C.’ (Bravo)

Ever since television first entered Americans’ living rooms, people have been debating what effect it has had on our everyday lives. From controversies surrounding television violence to the effect of advertising on children, the debate around television’s influence has been raging for decades.

With the current popularity of reality TV, that debate is only getting all the more intense. In fact, reality TV changes the whole dynamic of how we judge the debate. After all, we no longer have to simply ask whether life is imitating art, but whether art is truly imitating life. We will look at this debate in more detail, particularly as regards reality TV.

The White House Crashers

President Obama greets Tareq and Michaele Salahi who crashed a White House state dinner in Nov. 2009 (photo: Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton / Wikimedia Commons)

In 2009, two people, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, crashed a White House state dinner. The event was a major embarrassment for White House security, and was scrutinized for the potential risk it posed to those present.

But what was really surprising was the reason the Salahi’s gave for doing what they did: they weren’t looking to make a political point, and they certainly weren’t trying to compromise anybody’s security, rather, they wanted to be on The Real Housewives of D.C. How they expected crashing a state dinner would help in their dreams of reality TV stardom is anybody’s guess, but the incident showed just how much of an influence reality TV was beginning to have on people’s behavior, and many claimed the influence was for the worse.

The Good Inspiration


While it’s easy to point out television’s faults, it would be a mistake to assume that because so much of what we see on TV is, for lack of a better word, dumb, that that will also lead to the dumbing down of viewers. Some people have suggested that the reason reality TV is so popular is not because we want to emulate the people we see on TV, but because we want to feel superior to them. While this may not be an admirable trait, it is hard not to think, “I’m glad that’s not me,” when seeing the likes of Snooki or Honey Boo Boo on our television sets.

Furthermore, there are plenty of shows, such as Intervention and Hoarders that deal with serious mental health and addiction issues. These shows have offered useful information to those who otherwise may not have the courage or strength to reach out for that information on their own. They have also helped many people deal with their severe problems, both through the people they help on air, and the people they inspire to get help for their problems. These shows show how when life imitates art, it can actually be for the better.

The question over how much of an influence TV has over our daily lives is an interesting and fierce debate that often involves media figures, politicians, parents, and everyday consumers. While it is probably impossible to ever settle the debate once and for all, it is still an important issue to consider for every television viewer. With the popularity of reality TV, especially, the question of whether TV imitates life or life imitates TV is becoming a more pertinent question to address than ever before.


About Max Chennault

Max Chennault is a former television writer who now writes about the entertainment world and likes to follow trends in TV. An avid blogger, he likes to share his insights on various blog sites and on

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