In Defense of Reality TV: Why Does Watching the Kardashians Have to be a Guilty Pleasure?

Nora Turriago ’16
Opinions Editor 

If there were a ranking of television shows — a hierarchy, if you will, based on appeal and the number of viewers — it would surprise no one if “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” landed squarely at the bottom. It is no secret that the trials and tribulations of the Kardashian-Jenner clan — the majority of which consist of going out to lunch, buying expensive things, working out and talking about themselves in charming monotone-meets-Valley Girl voices — have been sneered at and poo-pooed by, well, practically everyone. They’ve been criticized for their selfies, outfits and lip injections, but, perhaps most importantly, there is a whole range of criticism for those who actually watch such a show. What sort of person could stand to voluntarily sit through such utter garbage?

Well, guess what, world? This person can! That’s right, folks. I, Nora Turriago, am a fan of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” In fact, while I’m at it, I’ll confess that I’m a fan of the reality television genre, and, if you really want to get personal, even have a bit of a celebrity gossip addiction. It’s not uncommon for me to have The Guardian open in one tab, while in the other the Daily Mail keeps me in the loop about the latest celebrity drama. Hey, this way I’ve got one foot in each world. It’s a good balance.

Whenever I reveal my interest in “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” I have noticed an interesting pattern. Almost without fail, the person I have been talking to — or their companion — will, with sudden excitement, reveal that they too are an ardent Kardashian viewer. One friend of mine expressed shock that she finally met someone who enjoys the show, as she herself doesn’t reveal her Kardashian preference for fear of backlash and ridicule. While it’s common to hear Smithies discussing “Orange Is the New Black,” that same sense of passion isn’t as visible for the latest Kardashian episode. As a result, when you meet a Kardashian compatriot, that in itself is cause for celebration.

I have begun mulling over the question over why this show — and indeed, reality television itself — is seen as something to be embarrassed about, as if expressing an interest in the Kardashians is an indication of a low IQ or bad taste (and, before you attempt to make a mean joke, it’s not!).  It’s easy to slide into the position of a television snob, condemning reality television. But the truth is that despite whatever insults people have for the genre, reality television is a fast-growing and popular industry. People are watching it. It sells. It’s here to stay. And, most importantly, it has value.

Yes, I said it. I am making the case that reality television is an important fixture of our culture and society that can provide meaningful analysis and discussion about important topics such as class, race and gender. Reality television brings different people and personalities — of all kinds of backgrounds and ideologies — to viewers who previously might not have been exposed to or aware of such individuals and issues. In this sense, reality television is almost like a documentary (or an anthropological case study —  take your pick): we find out how someone lives and learn about their values and thoughts. In turn, we also find the values of our own society reflected back at us from the screen — an onscreen hyperbole where the audience finds out what is and isn’t socially acceptable.

At the same time, such shows have the tremendous power to shape and even critique social values. Yet instead of readily indulging ourselves with such a genre, reality television is instead confined to the label of “guilty pleasure,” each episode an opportunity to mock and insult those onscreen and those watching. Such an attitude neglects all the potential that reality TV has to offer.

So, please, don’t brush off reality television. I’m not saying you have to sit down and binge watch the Kardashians (though I certainly won’t dissuade you), but stop labeling reality TV as a worthless genre. All I’m asking is for you to give reality television a chance. In the words of Kim Kardashian: “I love when people underestimate me and then become pleasantly surprised.” You and me both, Kimmy.