Reality TV Show: Analysis from a Sociologist’s Perspective This paper analyzes the reality TV show called The Osbournes from the sociological perspective (social conflict) and shows how these social perspectives’ notions are applied in the characters’ lives. To begin with, in contemporary television culture, the conventions of reality are increasingly informed by standards of so-called reality-TV, where a contrived family — whether it is ten people living in a “Big Brother” house or a group convening on a deserted island — is captured as a reality show by ubiquitous cameras. Television series like The Osbournes, depicting the everyday life of a celebrity and his family, have been copied in almost every Western country. In this TV reality series, the notion of family is not a contrived one, and the home setting is not a staged construction. Such programs as The Osbournes make it clear that there is no ideal television actor/performer or ideal pre-packaged format. The recent phenomenon of The Osbournes supports this. Whereas shows like Survivor and Big Brother transform ordinary people into celebrities, The Osbournes took a famous rock star and turned him into someone ordinary. Ozzy Osbourne, a member of the world-famous heavy metal band Black Sabbath, his wife and two of their offspring, Kelly and Jack, have let television cameras into their Beverly Hills home, and their every movement is filmed, edited down and broadcast to a fascinated public.
The Osbournes has proven the biggest hit ever for MTV. Perhaps one of the reasons for such public interest is that Ozzy Osbourne is a colorful, perverse figure: he is best known for his foul language, his head-banging and for biting the head off a bat during a performance. The thought of Ozzy as a family man going through a daily domestic routine is too tempting for fans of reality TV. The Osbournes is fascinating not for its revelation of celebrity lifestyles, but because it shows how ordinary famous people are in reality. In contrast to media’s perspective, the sociological perspective allows to study family extensively in relation to intercultural aspects and inner-family matters. For instance, any professional sociologist may give an overview of the different ways in which Osbournes family can be understood in all its cultural diversity, mainly social conflict. The sociologists discuss and compare familial issues like marital structure, kinship rules, family members' functional roles, parenting and “family life cycles” (from marriage to families with young children and aging families like Ozzys) in all their cultural diversities.
In this way sociologists demonstrate that although the traditional family of (white) heterosexual parents and their children is often taken as the normative definition of the family, from a different perspective this definition can be extended in many ways as long as it is considered as a group of people that care for each other and provide children a safe place to grow up. Of course, families can be dysfunctional as well, and these unsuccessful families have also been studied extensively from a sociological perspective (e.g. Osbournes). In the case with Ozzys, the family is researched with respect to its function in demographical descriptions of social organizations. Theoretically, the family in reality TV shows and television studies has often been related to the Freudian notion of the Oedipal family. Numerous important studies have emphasized the Oedipal plot of all classical films, and as such the psychoanalytical family can be considered as an important paradigm to interpret the world of cinema (Roscoe 2001). Psychoanalysis even featured as a double bill, so to speak, both in the family melodrama of the 1940s and `50s, and in the work of film scholars in the late 1970s interested in these films. Ordinariness, the everyday, commonplace, familiar — these qualities are essential to reality TV.
There is a strong appeal for the viewers, of identifying with someone just like themselves. Television programs in which ordinary people are the stars, such as The Osbournes has have proven immensely popular with audiences. Reality TV takes the process of popularizing the ordinary even further, expanding the definition of what constitutes a successful television program. The social conflict is represented by the fact that the contestants, however, are not innocent media participants. Although they are not professional actors, they are still, in a sense, giving a performance, playing to the camera, possibly even creating a persona for the program (Roscoe 2001). Raised in a world dominated by the media, television and film, the participants in reality TV bring a significant degree of knowledge about acting to the show, a mix of the rehearsed and unrehearsed. Speaking from the sociological perspective, it is impossible to know to what extent the contestants are presenting themselves and an image of themselves they have fashioned in response to their knowledge of and interaction with the television world as viewers and consumers. Adding to the notion of the social conflict, the extent to which the contestants are also performing for their audience raises the question of responsibility.
If reality TV continues to challenge and break various sexual and moral taboos, the responsibility for this should be seen as one shared between contestant, viewer, sponsor, programmer and the various media outlets which promote the program. The critics of reality TV cannot simply or simplistically blame the media for eroding values and traversing taboos. Again, as the social conflict model shows, reality TV makes clear that the media are not monolithic and manipulative entities responsible for seducing the innocent viewer and destroying the values of so-called good taste and ethical behavior. Reality TV makes it clear that meaning is actively constructed in the relationship between performer and spectator, text and audience—even, or particularly, when the actor is an ordinary person performing without a script. If reality TV has violated the boundaries between what is acceptable and unacceptable then it has done so with the participation and support of its cast and its viewing public. Given the postmodern disrespect for traditional forms and values, reality TV promises to offer ever more explicit and dramatic glimpses into areas once considered taboo.