On the hit reality television show “The Bachelor,” a man must analyze a large group of women to discover the one he wishes to marry. This is just a sample of what TV has become today. St. Thomas communication and journalism professors Wendy Wyatt and Kris Bunton found themselves analyzing the ethical dilemmas such shows produce in their new book, “The Ethics of Reality TV.”
The book dives into the “surreal world” of reality television, a genre recently dominating the airwaves and popular culture. It also examines the positive and negative effects that reality television has on popular culture and why it really does matter in today’s society.
“We looked at things like truth telling or deception, privacy, community building, stereotyping, exploitation and inspiration,” Wyatt said. “We wanted the authors to examine how these shows are either taking away from or adding to those issues.”
Each chapter of the book is written by a different author well versed in specific, related topics. Both Wyatt and Bunton wrote a chapter of their own and edited the book. Wyatt explained that they were looking not only from an American standpoint but from an international perspective as well. One of the chosen authors, Mira Desai, is from India and gives her perspective on the manufactured marriages of reality television. Desai explains in her chapter how television is influencing changes in traditional Indian courtship.
"The Ethics of Reality TV" discusses the positive and negative effects that reality television has on popular culture. (Alex Goering/TommieMedia)
When asked if she wanted to focus the book on certain shows more than others, Wyatt said that they really wanted to encompass the full spectrum of reality television.
“Some shows pop up more than others. ‘The Bachelor’ and all of its kin being one as well as ‘Jon & Kate Plus 8,’ but we didn’t focus on specific shows,” Wyatt said.
Wyatt and Bunton came together on the project after both spending time looking into reality television. Wyatt said she became interested when she was asked to be on a discussion panel for a philosophical book on exploitation. Wyatt said that as a person working with media, the first thing that popped into her head was reality television.
From that point, Wyatt presented her ideas from the panel at a conference where a publisher began to take interest.
Wyatt said Bunton became involved after working with a class on the depictions of families on different reality shows such as “Supernanny.”
“We weren’t sure if we wanted to be the reality-television people,” Wyatt said.
Once they began putting the book together, Wyatt said that it came together at an astonishingly fast rate.
“We had about eight months to get all of the work together and send it to the publisher,” Wyatt said.
For Wyatt and Bunton, that meant working with 10 different authors, a task that Wyatt said was sometimes challenging.
“Being the editor was very interesting, and I really learned a lot,” Wyatt said.
Some students and alumni are already showing interest in the book. Recent graduate Jazz Hampton said he became curious after his father and sister appeared as contestants on “The Biggest Loser.”
“With my family having been on a reality TV show, I think it would be interesting to see what the book has to say on the topic,” Hampton said.
Senior Will Bailey also thought that reading the book could raise some interesting ideas.
“I’m not really a big reality TV watcher, but since that whole form of entertainment is so mainstream these days, it may be interesting to take a look at,” Bailey said.
“The Ethics of Reality TV” is out now and will soon be available on campus at the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library.
Alex Goering can be reached at email@example.com.