How reality shows are really a form of social anthropology

November 30, 2021

Sitting here watching The Hills: New Beginnings I realize that I really AM kind of a social anthropologist.

I’m looking at these impossibly beautiful people in an impossibly beautiful setting doing what I consider to be impossibly beautiful stuff. How they live, what they do and what they talk about is riveting, in a meaningless kind of way–so I had to ask myself “why?”

Social anthropology.

It’s because their lives bear no resemblance to the world as I know it. What makes them tick? I’m curious! Maybe I’ve become the Margaret Mead of some reality shows.

The Backstory

I first saw some of the cast on the high school reality show Laguna Beach in 2004. The premise for the show was simply following the lives of this privileged group of high school friends. After a couple years (and graduation) the show spun off into The Hills, which ran until 2010. In 2019 many of the same cast members reunited in The Hills: New Beginnings.

Almost two decades have passed since high school and they are no longer kids. Some of the cast are now married with families. Others have leveraged their celebrity into business ventures. Actress Pamela Anderson’s son Brandon Lee, an actor and model, has joined the cast. And yet…they are all the same as they were all those years ago.

Still incredibly beautiful, privileged…and spoiled

It’s hard to fathom that so many absolutely gorgeous people with incredibly fabulous bodies, perfect hair populate southern California, and that they are all so tremendously shallow.

They’re still pretty privileged. It’s not always clear how they all support themselves, given the great places they live, designer attire and the amount of alcohol they consume.

And so, I sit here, glued to the screen, puzzled by their behavior and waiting for…what?

13 comments on “How reality shows are really a form of social anthropology
  1. Hope you’re not waiting for anything of any substance. I used to watch the original Laguna Beach, but everything after that felt like kids who didn’t grow up because they didn’t have to, but grew to be more and more impressed with themselves.

  2. Shari says:

    My brilliant millennial daughter and SIL watch Love Island, and I never understood, no matter their explanation, the appeal of that stuff. Sounds like i’m not missing anything!

  3. Lynda Beth Unkeless says:

    In college I majored in anthropology…maybe that’s why I find scrolling through social media to be a 24/7 exercise in
    culture and society…it’s one way I “justify” my never-ending curiosity in it…

  4. Laurie Stone says:

    I used to watch some of the Real Housewife series until I saw how money, clothes, and big houses can’t make someone smart or interesting.

  5. Diane says:

    Much as we would watch, with morbid fascination, a runaway fire or train?
    I’ve never watched these shows, so I think I’m both better and worse for it. It IS a study of human behaviour, isn’t it?
    I also have the theory that the more beautiful someone is, the less they have to rely on their personality to attract friends. So it remains underdeveloped! Good luck with your viewing! 😉

  6. Alana says:

    I have a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and I have to admit that I am a fan of a reality show (I won’t say which one) that I believe exploits the people it “studies”. So why am I attracted to that show? Maybe because this shows and others like it reveal a side of our society that we really don’t want to admit we are fascinated with?

  7. Lauren says:

    Sadly I watch too many shows on Bravo. I love the escape.

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