Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Reality Television

Reality Television


“Oh no, it’s Real Housewives.”
“What, the British version?”
“No, that’s definitely Real Housewives of Orange County.”
                While flipping through various programs of the UK in our London hotel room this past weekend, the girls and I were very surprised to find this US guilty pleasure.  At first we laughed about the upstanding American image this show must impress upon the English. However, in the back of my mind, I assumed our foreign friends must know that reality television in the United States is about as realistic as Snooki actually becoming a licensed veterinarian. ( "They're alive when you kill it."
                But then I began to consider my own perceptions of the British. To be honest, I didn’t fully understand delineations of the United Kingdom versus Great Britain versus England before this trip. I’d grouped all these distinct people groups into convenient stereotypes that I’d based solely on entertainment media-Alfred from Batman, Jude Law, and the Spice Girls. I’m a Psychology major; I should know better than to take those mental shortcuts. I should have realized the Americanized portrayals of the English would be fraught with misconstructions and arrived in England with no assumptions whatsoever.
But I didn’t.
Applying George Gerbner’s “Cultivation Theory,” we understand that television shapes our perceptions of reality and the world around us by affecting our attitudes and cognitive processes.  It is then plausible to suppose that British audiences will presume the Real Housewives of Orange County must provide adequate depictions of Americans. By extension of agenda setting theory, English audiences may believe the outrageous, exaggerated behavior of the show’s cast must also be important to people in the United States. Thus we have Europe’s frequently employed archetype-the loud, obnoxious, and greedy American.

Is this prototype at all accurate? Do audiences in the United Kingdom really believe many Americans act that way or put stock in certain characteristics of that lifestyle? Or, do they, like some of us, realize reality television’s blatant lack of actual reality and just find the show supremely entertaining?


  1. It was very interesting to find The Real Housewives of Orange County on in our hotel room in London. From my time in England, I have met so many nice British people that are always willing to help give directions or a good recommendation. A lot of them even want to ask questions about America. The only stereotype of Americans I have witnessed here was the association between Americans and "being dumb." This happened when a group of us went to go buy our go phones and the man at the store had to explain everything about the phones three times until we all understood. He said "I'm sure you guys are smart in your fields, but phones are definitely not one of them." Of course, he said this in a joking way, but it was the only time I've witnessed an American Stereotype. From my communication with the British so far, I think that people here are generally good about not believing that all Americans are similar to The Real Housewives of Orange County; however, for people who live in more rural areas that do not frequently interact with tourists, this may not be the case. I know that I am sometimes guilty of believing that TV portrays the way people from a certain culture really act, but that is because I have not met people from that culture in real life. I don't think most people here associate that kind of behavior with all Americans, at least, I can only hope they do not.

  2. I think we are all guilty of having our views of the British cultivated by stereotypes. It's difficult to draw the line somewhere, because the reality is, there ARE people in the States who fit the stereotype of The Real Housewives, and there are probably a fair amount of British people who do embrace the popular stereotype of poor dental hygiene. I think all of it just has to be taken with a grain of salt. Yes, we Americans may be loud and take a lot of pictures, but the majority of us aren't throwing drinks in our best friend's faces and sleeping around with our husband's brother. Unfortunately, these stereotypes we are cultivated to accept, do come from somewhere. We just have to figure out where that line is drawn while spreading the word that all of us from New Jersey

  3. I have experienced an instance of when I was generalized as well, but interestingly enough I was mistaken for being an Australian. I was in a convenience store in London and was struggling with counting out my coins, and was snarked at for being a “bloody Australian.” Whether I fell victim to this rude association because I may look like I am Australian or because British people still maintain a negative stereotype of Australian people (and apparently their lack of intelligence in my case) is beyond from what I took from this happening. What truly shocked me though was the casual manner in which the store clerk said something so stereotypically defensive; it was as if what he said was so accepted and mainstream that he didn’t even anticipate me being offended. From a correlation with your experience Ellie, I guess it is more accepted in the UK to explicitly stereotype others, whether it be in a serious or joking manner.