For as long as I can remember, reality television in our home has been looked upon with such a strong sense of distaste that I’ve never truly developed an appreciation of its potential. The voice of my father grumbling “turn this crap off” at any glimpse of Big Brother or The Bachelor is still so engrained, that on the rare occasion I find myself flicking the channels of free to air TV, I’m reluctant to pause and observe.
However, reality television, and in particular television remakes across different cultures, can tell us a lot about an audience’s interaction with the modern media environment. More specifically, an audience’s experience with reality television can be a significant indicator of our sense of identity and the importance of culture in determining audience preferences.
The term “cultural proximity” has been coined by Ksiazek and Webster as a way of describing the “intuitively appealing notion that people will gravitate toward media from their own culture” (2008). That is, that we are inherently drawn towards the viewing of content which is representative or similar to our own cultural experience. Whilst language is perhaps the greatest factor in determining this magnetism towards such content, other elements such as “gender images, lifestyle, knowledge about other lifestyles, values, education, family, personal and group networks, travel, religion, and organizational affiliations” (Ksiazek & Webster, 2008) play a significant role in this phenomenon.
For this reason, transnational television remakes of reality programs give a fascinating insight into how an audience might interact with content from differing cultures, or in fact, chose not to interact. As Darling-Wolf (2014) explains, “the genre consequently offers a fertile terrain on which to explore…the notion that the local/national/global are mutually constituted in globalized cultural forms”. Through my own experience with media consumption I know this to be very true. I will rarely, if at all, opt to watch a television show that is not in English, and have a much higher preference for programs which are relatable due to the identifiable and relevant elements of cultural similarity.
Another factor which I find particularly compelling about reality television is the increased prevalence of audience interactivity, made possible through the rise of globalisation and social media. Undoubtedly, our experience with consumption of television media has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years. No longer (or at least very rarely) do we sit together as a family, without any devices present, and watch a television show on free to air from start to finish. Instead, we are immersed in a truly interactive media environment, whereby the consumer expects to in some way be involved in the online dialogue. This may be through live tweeting, sharing of content on Facebook or multiple other modes of online interaction. As McBride argues, “reality TV shows rely heavily on social media to drive content consumption and ratings… Researchers and Network Analyses have examined what exactly draws audiences into television shows now more than ever before. The answer is clear: Audience Engagement.” (2015).
So take that, Dad, The Bachelor isn’t actually just a mind-numbing piece of garbage, but in fact, a fascinating insight into audience interaction with television and the role that cultural proximity plays in today’s emergent and rapidly evolving media environment.
Darling-Wolf, F 2014, ‘Imagining the Global: Transnational Media and Popular Culture Beyond East and West’, Digital Culture Books, online article, viewed 19 August 2019, <https://quod.lib.umich.edu/n/nmw/12748915.0001.001/1:4/–imagining-the-globaltransnational-media-and-popular-culture?g=dculture;rgn=div1;view=fulltext;xc=1>
Ksiazek T & Webster, J 2008, ‘Cultural Proximity and Audience Behavior: The Role of Language in Patterns of Polarization and Multicultural Fluency’, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media
McBride, J 2015, “Social Media & Audience Participation in Regard to Television”, Honors Research Projects, <http://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/honors_research_projects/6>