The next steps for reality television

By Meagan Kennedy

Elm Staff Writer

Throughout the early 21st century, reality television has defined a large portion of our popular culture, with stars like the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, Snookie, and others known to the public through their iconic lives televised and turned into documentary-style TV series. 

Endless seasons followed the daily lives and drama of both famous and average people. In today’s world, however, there has been a turn away from reality TV as it was once understood. These stars turned to new outlets and ways to communicate with their fanbases.

Stars like Paris Hilton were depicted, and thus seen, as perfect for the rise of reality television. 

According to Ilana Kaplan at The New York Times, Hilton is “a beautiful blank slate of a person onto whom all kinds of ideas and brand sponsorships could be projected.” 

Hilton was originally most famous for her series “The Simple Life,” which aired for five seasons from 2003 to 2007. Starring alongside fellow socialite Nicole Richie, the two girls worked normal jobs across the United States in place of their money and glamorous Beverly Hill lifestyles. 

In recent years, Hilton worked with director Alexandra Dean to create “This is Paris,” a documentary exploring the more serious sides of her life, most specifically her traumatic experiences in an abusive boarding school during her youth. 

In interview with The New York Times, Hilton said she’s worked to distance herself from her “Simple Life” character so many have understood her as. 

“I’m happy for people to know that I am not a dumb blonde…I’m just very good at pretending to be one,” she said.

In lieu of continuing the reality TV lifestyle, Hilton has dedicated her life to shutting down Provo Canyon School, the boarding school from her youth, to bring an end to abuse like that she suffered.

Kim Kardashian West and the rest of the Kardashian-Jenners, a family known for controversy and drama, have also established roots in the genre. 

But, on Sept. 8, the Kardashians announced the end of their reality show “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” after 14 years on the air, with their 20th and final season premiering in 2021. 

Known for their brand both as a family and as individual social media icons, the show was what sparked the original conversation about the lives of the family, including that of Kim Kardashian West, who went from Paris Hilton’s personal assistant to her own stardom marketing her name on everything from makeup lines to clothing, fragrances, and more.

Now, after years of being in the public eye, the reality show had changed from its original purpose of an inside look at the family to an extended advertisement, according to Constance Grady from Vox. 

“For 13 years, ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ has operated less as the center of the family business and more as an advertisement for the family’s many operations,” Grady said on Sept. 9. “And now, the Kardashian-Jenners have hit a point where they no longer need that ad.” 

Grady has also noted how the fame and profit that came along with the show in previous years has diminished as social media has risen.

With the COVID-19 pandemic separating casts of these shows and their respective franchises, the future of reality TV is quickly fading. 

While many once turned to reality shows a decade ago, social media and streaming services provide the same inside look to the lives of celebrities like the Kardashians. 

Celebrities no longer need an entire season of television to market a product, and instead can display their glamorous lifestyles through their various social media accounts, including Instagram and Snapchat.

In many ways, the future of reality television might soon come to an end for many shows like “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” However, as Grady noted, the “day-in-the-life” style view of others’ lives are arguably more accessible than in the past. 

The lives and careers of many of America’s infamous socialites have found new ways to adapt and engage with their audiences, gaining millions of followers and fans every day. 

Like Hilton and Kardashian West, they have refocused their lives on more positive change and a deeper connection with their fans.

Featured Photo caption: With popular reality TV series wrapping up or shifting gears towards a different portrayal of their stars, its future as a genre also seems to be coming to a close. Photo Courtesy of Keagan Henman.

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