Reality TV and Cultural Differences

If you look close enough, you can find examples of intercultural interactions in almost every aspect of daily life.  This week, I noticed quite a few instances happening in reality TV shows.  The first that came to mind was Wife Swap.  The show began in the UK and a US version quickly followed.

The basis of the show is that two families change wives for two weeks.  The families are usually complete opposites.  At the beginning of the show both families are presented and their lives are detailed, showing their lifestyle from their perspective.  The women go to the other’s house, look around and read the “household manual” which outlines the family’s beliefs, daily routine and rules of the house.

During the first week, the wives must adhere to the rules of the house.  This often causes a lot of conflict and strong reactions.  The families respond with shock, laughter and sometimes outrage as they find the others to be naïve or stupid as the two extreme, opposite points of view clash.  The wives are also able to observe some of the things they perceive to be wrong about the other family’s way of life.  They usually speak with the children and find out how the parents’ decisions are affecting them and what they would like to change.

The second week gives the wives the opportunity to change the rules and enforce some of their own beliefs and ideas.  The wives tell the family about the changes and the family must obey the new rules.  The family is often resistant at first but sometimes comes to see the benefits of the changes and come to a compromise.

At the end of the swap, the two husbands and wives reunite and discuss the changes and what they’ve learned from the others.  Some time later the family is re-visited to see if they’ve incorporated any of the differences.

The show seems to parallel what someone might experience when encountering another country and culture.  The families are encouraged to open themselves up to new experiences and ideas, see a different perspective, and think about their actions and why they do what they do.  The exposure to new ideas helps challenge ones beliefs and preconceived notions about life and the world.  In the end, the two families/cultures influence each other, compromise and find the best of both worlds.

After a quick search on Hulu for other reality shows, the only other one I came across was a show called Battle of the Bods.  On the show, five women appear in front of a two-way mirror.  Behind the mirror are three men who rate the women based on various physical attributes.  The women must try to anticipate how the men will rate them.  If their guesses are correct, they win money.

What struck me as interesting was the differences between what men and women find physically attractive in women.  It seems that beauty values between the genders are different.  When approaching gender as culture, the concept of the show illustrates differences in cultures.

What other reality shows illustrate cultural differences?  Can watching such shows really help us understand cultural differences?


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