The ugly truths of reality TV

Nearly two decades after the reality TV craze took a firm grasp on our culture, viewers are really good at pretending the stars of these shows are only characters.

Sure, we watch Lifetime’s revealing “UnReal” and skim juicy tell-all books and read about how reality TV is really made.

But when we see cast members onscreen in outrageous situations (with a heavy dose of editing, of course), it’s so easy to forget that these are actual humans.

However, this summer, several incidents have made this fact increasingly difficult to ignore.

In the past month, viewers have been forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about reality television as ugliness behind the scenes spilled over into real life, giving everyone a rare glimpse at what can happen to people’s psyches when they agree to live on camera.

There’s no better example than Rob Kardashian, the 30-year-old reality star who has become a tragic figure of his reality TV-famous family.

Struggling with his own demons and serious health problems, he once shunned the cameras on the “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” franchise, only to reverse course last year and land his own spinoff with his fiancee, Blac Chyna.

“Rob & Chyna” was a painful viewing experience that displayed all of the couple’s problems.

The first season ended with the birth of their baby girl and coincided with Kardashian claiming on social media that Chyna cheated on him and had taken the baby away.

She denied this and urged him to get help.

Regardless, E! renewed the show for a second season, though it’s reportedly in jeopardy given that they broke up earlier this year. (E! did not return a request for comment.)

On Wednesday, Kardashian had a stunning meltdown on Twitter and Instagram in which he posted nude images of Chyna, published a video of her kissing another man, accused her of drug use and many more lurid claims.

It was deeply sad and seemed primed for a wide audience — providing a disturbing example of what could happen if you’re used to living your life as the world watches. Continue reading

  • Emily Yahr is a reporter for the Washington Post, based in Washington D.C.
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