Reality TV's 10 Biggest Lies About America

10. Americans are all obese.

From the messy buildup in the fat folds of Mama June’s neck (affectionately known to her children as “neck crud”) to Honey’s proclivity for bathing in mayonnaise, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo embodies the myth that everyone in America weighs a minimum of 300 pounds. One of the best episodes involves Mama June dumping a 5 pound bag of sugar into 2 gallons of lemon juice in order to make homemade lemonade. For the record, 64% of Americans are not obese. But with shows like HHere Comes Honey Boo Boo, The Biggest Loser, Extreme Weight Loss, Shedding for the Wedding, Thintervention, Dance Your A** Off, Celebrity Fit Club, I Used To Be Fat, and Ruby, we’re just a bunch of big, fat Americans.

9. All Americans do is shop.

Despite the fact that the American shopping mall is a dying industry and most Americans spend relatively little on discretionary purchases in comparison to the cost of daily living, we’re a nation of stuff according to reality television. Hoarders is the most extreme example of the American addiction to shopping, with Extreme Couponing coming in a close second. Every reality show about rich women (The HillsThe Real Housewives syndicate, Rich Kids of Beverly Hills) involves requisite shopping sprees. We buy until we get buried and then we buy some more.

8. American teens and twenty-somethings are good for two things: Getting drunk…

The drunken kid trend started with puke-fests on MTV’s breakout reality series The Real World. However, it was Snooki and her ilk that launched the drunk TV teen trend to stardom with Jersey Shore. The show’s creator would go on to repackage the series as Party Down South for CMT, a “reality” show featuring southern kids getting wasted, much to the dismay of the locals. Nearly 80% of teenagers do not binge drink, 60% have never encountered alcohol, and 72% of those aged 18-24 do not participate in binge drinking. The rest of them in the minority are making a mess of themselves on reality television.

7. …and getting pregnant.

The teens who are drinking are usually pregnant, or about to be. MTV claims that their underage mommy shows, 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom have made a serious dent in teenage pregnancy, supposedly lowering the stat 5.7% over the course of 18 months. Still, cultural forces like increased education and an economic recession have had a larger impact on the teen pregnancy trend, which has gone down 44% since 1991. Here’s a real number on teen pregnancy: .03% of teen women have babies. In other words, while the MTV show hasn’t made a real mark on reducing teen pregnancy, it has shot Farrah Abraham, “Backdoor Teen Mom,” to stardom, proving to audiences that the young women of reality America are ready to use every element of sex to their advantage.

6. When American women aren’t sculpting perfect bodies…

Chicks get the raw end of reality television. Especially the ugly ones. Just ask the creators of The Swan, a reality show that gives super-ugly ducklings a full-on plastic surgery makeover. Bridalplasty gave the gift of beauty to unbecoming future brides who didn’t have the time to wait for Extreme Makeover. If you’re into the more gruesome end of plastic surgery, Botched highlights the failures of Dr. 90210‘s colleagues. Despite the fact that .005% of Americans get plastic surgery on a yearly basis, reality TV portrays an America that’s never happy with the way they look.

5. …they’re hunting for the perfect man.

After they pretty up, these girls get out there to hunt down a man. The Bachelorette, the queen of the “Get Me to the Altar” franchise, is probably the most humiliating of the bunch given the fact that you have to be the dumpee of The Bachelor in order to become The Bachelorette. Still, no one minds sloppy seconds in the world of reality dating; just ask the folks on Rock of Love.

4. When American women become mothers, they go completely insane.

If the women of Wife Swap don’t convince you that American mothers are insane, feel free to reference Dance MomsToddlers & Tiaras, and, if you can find a rerun, Jon & Kate Plus 8. The Original SMother, Beverly Goldberg, can’t hold a candle to these wild women of reality television who know no bounds. The most famous of them will turn their child’s sex tape into a multi-million dollar opportunity for instant fame.

3. Most Americans worship celebrity…

Speaking of which, the Kardashians have re-defined goddess worship for the 21st century. Cold, stone Venuses are stuff of the old world. Today’s goddesses dwell in the pantheon of pop culture, stocked with a stable of men to entertain them, and swathed in the finest of fabrics and dripping in jewels (knockoffs of which you may purchase at your local big box retailer tagged with said-celebrity’s self-named label). Forget the fact that the ratings of Keeping Up with the Kardashians are crashing fast. From the outside looking in, America bows to these goddesses of the small screen.

2. …except for the Americans who worship God in any way, shape or form. They’re just plain nuts.

Whether it’s the “faith, family and facial hair” of Duck Dynasty or the Duggars seeking fertility advice so they can become 20, not just 19 Kids and Counting, the God-worshipers of America are nuanced, to say the least. The less than 20% of Americans who attend church on a regular basis are represented by the extremes of the faith-based population. Then again, if you look beyond the beards and rather unique attitudes towards kissing before marriage, the Robertsons and Duggars pale in comparison to the distorted portrayals of Mormons, Hutterites and Amish that provide endlessly painful reality fodder.

1. Americans will do anything for cold, hard cash.

Survivor, the show that launched the genre of reality television, is the capstone in a series of reality shows that present a picture of Americans who are willing to do anything — eat bugs, walk the desert naked, sell out the guy squatting next to them — for cold, hard cash. “Reality” game shows perpetuate the worst stereotype of capitalism: greed is good. Despite the fact that 88% of households participate in charitable giving to the tune of over $2,000 per household, reality television continues to perpetuate the myth that Americans are immoral, money-grubbing jerks.


thumbnail illustration via shutterstock / Helga Esteb