Death and Reality TV: Has Reality Gotten Too Real?

This week, MTV is dealing with the fall-out from the death of one of their reality stars. Shain Gandee, a castmember of the Jersey Shore in Appalachia show Buckwild, and two companions died of accidental carbon-monoxide poisoning while going late-night off-roading—a pastime that Shain was often shown enjoying on the show.
 
The death of the reality star has some questioning the future of the show, which had begun filming its second season. But a larger question could also be asked about the future of reality TV at large: has the line been crossed where the fun antics that once drew young viewers in, have too heavy a consequence to keep them watching? Did everything just get a little too real?
 
Young viewers want reality TV that lifts them up, or makes them feel better about themselves through the magic of schadenfreude. But when the scale tips too far in the side of morose, the fun of watching comes to a screeching halt. Reality TV holds a unique place in entertainment for viewers, who love to see “real” people with over-the-top drama, but are wary of being too reminded of the stresses or sadnesses of their own lives while watching. It’s possible that Gen Y viewers could turn away from the genre of reality as it exists now if it continues to showcase the things in life they’d just rather not see.
 
Reality TV charts new territory when it comes to where the boundaries between public and private lie. Though the shows might have a staff of writers, these are real people being featured, so hiding their flaws and tragedies is not a possibility. This is not the first death of a reality star that has been glaringly played out in the public spotlight. Bravo drew criticism for continuing with the second season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills after the death of Russell Armstrong, the…

 
 

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“Art is basically my job and I enjoy it so much.”—Female, 15, MD

Snap is making its “biggest move” in scripted original content, teaming up with NBCUniversal and the Duplass brothers for their next series. The Duplass-owned creative studio Donut will produce original series for Snap shot in vertical video. NBCU and Snap will also be opening a joint digital content studio focused completely on mobile-first entertainment, “formaliz[ing] their partnership” and putting Snap firmly in the producing/original content creation camp. Snap’s mobile-only approach is part of a movement to shake up how we view videos—in fact, they’re calling their offering “a fundamentally new medium.” (THRTechCrunch)

Eggo frozen waffles are capitalizing on their unexpected Stranger Things’ fame. The brand has seized the marketing opportunity of being a part of one of Millennials & Gen Z’s favorite shows, tying themselves into Netflix’s Super Bowl ad, creating a special toaster for select fans, and swarming New York Comic Con with people dressed up like Eleven armed with “watch party kits” (aka “waffles and a microwavable syrup server”). To prep for the premiere of season two of the show, Eggo is sending out a fully-loaded food truck for the red carpet premiere, and going all out on social media to connect with fans. (MediaPost)

More teens than ever have severe anxiety, but why? The American College Health Association found a 12% increase in undergrads reporting “overwhelming anxiety” from 2011 to 2016, and several studies concur that “there’s just been a steady increase of severely anxious students.” Social media is part of the problem—constant like-monitoring and cyber bullying isn’t helping the most stressed generation to date. There’s also an increasing (and constant) perceived need to over-achieve. One psychology professor observes, “There’s always one more activity, one more A.P. class, one more thing to do in order to get into a top college.” (NYTimes)

Ypulse research has shown that 88% of Millennial parents are trying to avoid helicopter parenting—but they might not be able to help it. The constant media storm of global atrocities and everyday stories of parenting gone wrong combined with advertisers’ willingness to fear-monger, results in a generation of (understandably) anxious parents. It doesn’t help that the tech to constantly monitor kids is easily available (albeit pricey)—from drone surveillance meant for the military to devices that track “blood-oxygen levels all night long.” One relationship therapist sums up, “Everyone is having a hard time drawing a line and just figuring out what’s reasonable versus what’s over-protective.” (Refinery29)

Brands are turning college students into mini-sales forces. Aerie, Victoria’s Secret Pink, and Express are just a few of the many brands that have a program for college campus reps where students receive swag, experience, and other perks for helping bring brand awareness to their colleges. Though brands don’t always require social posts, most ambassadors do share their swag on social, bringing organic ads to their friends’ feeds. The biggest draw is that social posts from reps “[come] across as natural, authentic, a product that they would normally use or want to talk about.” (Racked)

“[Celebrity] can mean anything nowadays and it's a rather diluted term; from YouTube star, to someone on Instagram with millions of followers, to reality TV dopes, etc.”—Male, 30, WI

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