Dance Moms, Toddlers and Tiaras, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and more similar shows, are often advertised as a deep, unscripted, and unedited look into these people’s lives. The shows profit off anger, off catfights, and off women being edited to look like they’re irrational, dramatic, and emotionally overwrought. Dramatics make good television, and it seems like the cost of that is to further exploit these women and girls.
Young girls are often portrayed as materialistic and superficial. This has always been to do with media portrayal, the stories of little girls in books. It just so happens that over the last 20 years, reality TV has profited off these young girls, their temper tantrums and, for example, their love for dance. This was the age of Toddlers and Tiaras, and just before the beginning of Dance Moms. In other words, it was in the middle of TLC’s car crash TV golden era. Car crash TV has to be sensationalised, the subject matter would be otherwise mundane and unwatchable. The cost of this, though, is that it’s pushing the narrative of women and girls being unnecessarily angry, hard to control, irrational, and emotional. These women are made into caricatures of themselves, and even if we think we’re smart enough as consumers to not take it too literally, it’ll push this narrative and bias all the same.
TLC’s shows about performing kids, often, didn’t hail the kids as the centre of the drama. Instead, it was the parents, the mums who’d do anything to get their kids famous and by extension, them. Now that I’m a bit older, I can see the transactional nature of these feuds between the women and the producers of these shows. Women are there for entertainment alone, with apparently no intellectual value. I’d love to say that I haven’t watched many shows like these since, that I’m better, more grown-up, with a sense of moralistic superiority, but I haven’t. Like so many other people across the world, I’ve fallen into seeing the supposed inside worlds of these television personalities and hoping to “get to know them” on an apparently personal level. I’m talking about shows like KUWTK, Love Island, and even The Bachelor (on occasion).
Why, then, do we get so much out of these shows? Are they really as confessional as the media moguls behind them would have us believe? Why do the sensationalist parts of these shows more often than not focus on women? What are we supposed to make of this media we watch to get away from thinking about real-life stuff? Why is it Dance Moms and not Dance Dads? It comes down to the profitability of women’s emotions and anger. If two people have a catfight, it makes for good television. If two women have a catfight, it’s prime material for teaching kids what not to be. However, it also means that these women, who’re simply getting into arguments, as we all do, are being exploited for their anger and emotions. It pushes the narrative of women being hot-headed, fiery, and more often than not, irrational. It’s reductive, but we all fall into watching it.
Reality TV is so often hailed as a personalised, insider look—a confessional. It’s more than that, it’s a way for producers to archetype people into What You Don’t Want To Be, a way to exploit people’s very natural responses to highly stressful situations, and villainise emotions. Women’s emotions are once again on the chopping block of consumerism, and women are time and time again reduced into being there purely for entertainment value.