Keeping up with the Kardashians

Has reality television gone down the drain?

Who’s Kim Kardashian? I’ve been seeing her name everywhere. Over internet posts and magazine spreads, headlines read, “Kim Kardashian’s Divorce — TMZ.” I did not know that this person was getting divorced. In fact, I hadn’t known that this person was married, either. Another celebrity married-in-a-heartbeat-then-divorced-just-as-fast. In other words, publicity-publicity-publicity-publicity.

That really is what it is: publicity. The Kardashian-Humphries wedding extravaganza cost over $30 million — comparable to the royal Will and Kate wedding of $34 million. Cake crafters, floral companies, and party planners flew in to build Kim’s perfect wedding. Sponsors gave free cakes, free decorations, and free gifts to Kim to add their own names to the publicities. Vera Wang gave Kim three dresses each at $20,000 a piece to don on her wedding day. Kim’s wedding day made the U.S. years-long recession look like a bad day. And as a side-note, Kris Jenner, Kim’s mother, spent $50,000 on a facelift to look good for her daughter’s wedding. Shame all that money went to her face instead of her brain.

According to People magazine, Kim has not talked about why she has filed for divorce, nor has she said when she will discuss it. Kim’s mother, with a straight face (get it?), told People that “[Kim’s] just trying to follow her heart, and she’s going to be okay.” Kim followed the money, and yes, she is going to be okay. She sold her wedding pictures for $1.5 million to People, cashing in on her publicity stunts.

Reality stars like Kim Kardashian understand what the new-age audience wants, and they exploit it. Shows like Jersey Shore, Millionaire Matchmaker, and The Bachelor all have over-the-top glamour, romance, and tragedy. Reality show writers that contrive storylines to fit our need for drama in their TV show are story editors. Their aim is to preserve the illusion that is reality by giving off an authentic feel and drawing a connection with the audience. But by manipulating the footage, the dialogue, and the story, they are hoodwinking us into believing an alternate reality.

Back when reality television was just starting off, Blind Date captured the attention of many viewers. The show had a guy and a girl go on a blind date with each other. The date was planned out carefully, and the conversation was often interjected by commentaries (“Countdown in 1..2..”). Jeff Bartsch, former Blind Date editor, says that the editing board has many ways of crafting the footage to deliver a story the audience wants. For example, if the date started mellowing out, then the editors would reconstruct the sequence of the date to create their own effects. To make the man seem bored, Bartsch would take the cutscene of when his date is taking a bathroom break, and to show it as if it were during the date. The context would be meddled with to make the man seem unresponsive and aloof to his date. Blind Date is one of the leading examples of when editing can make reality a show.

Today, we have reality shows that summon drama shamelessly and on any occasion. It could be any context: Hell’s Kitchen, America’s Next Top Model, American Choppers, or Ax Men. You can be cooking, cat-walking, fixing motorcycle gears, or hillbillying, and you can still pick a fight with somebody. This is the context-less drama we live vicariously through everyday.

Despite the overt over-editing of the story, Americans still seem not to mind the false realities of reality television. According to a TIME magazine poll, 25 percent of viewers believe that programs are almost completely fabricated, and more than half of viewers agree that accuracy is not a factor in the enjoyability of a program. This explains why all eyes were on Kim when she broke the marriage off. There is no real love or real commitment. There was only lavish and suspense. This is American television at its lowest.

As a writer, I believe that it is the content that makes the story. No amount of editing can facelift an ugly essay. That is why I prefer to catch my episodes of Modern Family every Wednesday. Because strangely enough, scripted shows have proven to be more realistic than reality television.