Since the early 2000s reality shows have completely taken over not only television but pop culture as a whole. MTV has been slowly changing their network into a reality based free-for-all since the 1990s when the The Real World was established, but the 2000s were really the origin of a mass across the board reality show influx. Social Media also became popular around the same time and it seems like both of these now commonly accepted institutions have started to ebb and flow into one another and are sharing many similar cultural aspects.
MySpace was almost an incubation period for social media; all the kinks were still getting worked out, Blingees made loading pages almost like an off road course, and the visual format seemed like it took precedence over the actual function of the site, but when Facebook started rearing it’s monolithic stature, the entire world of social media was torn asunder. That’s when the real similarities and gray area between reality show culture and social media really started to emerge. Facebook has organically (and rather artificially) become a virtual parallel to the docu-reality series that have forever changed the landscape of television and our perception of cultural constructs.
One of the most similar aspects between social media and reality shows are the construction and evolution of archetype abstractions. Every reality show casting director talks about the extremely specific almost algorithmic equations they use when formulating a new show. They need Character A. to react to Character B. so Constant C. can interject creating a whole new set of variables for D, E, and F to become flustered with; and then this process repeats throughout the season, accumulating steam along the way for the inevitable finale / reunion where the whole process begins anew.
Social Media has become a similar half-fabricated / half-actualized venue that allows it’s participants to write their own storylines as they shape and mold the outcome through their personal online tableau; a cryptic little tweet here, a specific photo vaguely framed there, an eclectic Spotify playlist that seems incongruent at first but slowly reveals abstractions in the sense of a fiber optic board game. All of these little details, whether purposely articulated or by accident, add up to an online persona that can be every bit as simulated as the most elaborate reality show scenarios. Social Media allows us to change as little or as much of our own reality to create a linear or abstract storyline that ends up personifying our own persona construct.
Another major parallel between reality shows and social media is the ease of it’s participants to take part in the contruction of their persona. That’s one of the major flaws reality show casting directors have talked about since the massive proliferation of reality shows since the 2000s. It used to be easy for them to find the rough and tumble hillbilly with a heart of gold, or the housewife with golden locks and an armful of existential crises to match, but now everyone is way too self-aware of what casting directors are looking for, and they come to the auditions already in “character”, or they say something like “I’m the such and such arche-sterotype you’ve been looking for”.
The same exact thing has happened on social media. Instead of organically articulating exactly what comprises themselves on a visceral level, people create versions of themselves that are more palatable both in the real world and in online venues; not in the context of “I don’t want my boss to know I went to Hooter’s with my gram-gram for Easter”, but more so that they’re sculpting and purposefully editing out or exaggerating their own online persona to appeal to a seemingly larger audience. Even if you’re 100% authentic in real life there’s still aspects you might edit out within social media to present a more well-rounded auto-tuned version of yourself. It’s kind of like how MSG evens out the five main tastes to create a more pleasurable but inherently banal palette, some people use social media to quality control their own organic shortcomings. The same way reality shows have catacombs overflowing with 14-hour-a-day editing kiosks, social media can be used to crossfade or edit out our undesirable facets only to heighten and spotlight our glorious and nutrient rich accomplishments.