Reality TV creates an ‘unreal world’

The news: In April, a federal judge ruled former Gov. Rod Blagojevich could not leave for Costa Rica to appear on the reality TV show, “I’m a Celebrity –¦ Get Me Out of Here!”

Behind the news: Latinos are underrepresented in the top 10 reality TV network programs, according to an analysis by The Chicago Reporter.

Latinos have constituted 8 percent of all contestants, though, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, they made up 15 percent of the U.S. population in 2007. Nearly three out of every four contestants have been white, while only two-thirds of the population are white. Black contestants made up 14.5 percent of all casts, though African Americans were 12.8 percent of the population.

The Reporter studied the most recent three seasons of top Nielsen Television Indexranked competitive reality shows for the 2008-2009 season and determined race or ethnicity of more than 500 contestants based on their name, photo, country of origin, cast or personal Web site bios, and media interviews.

“America’s Next Top Model” has had the biggest percentage of nonwhite contestants, with nearly half of the cast being black, Latino or Asian. “The Bachelor,” meanwhile, has been the most homogeneous, with an 86 percent white cast.

Harvey Young, an assistant professor at the Northwestern University School of Communication specializing in performance studies, theater and film, said audiences usually don’t notice the lack of racial and ethnic diversity.

“If you see a little bit of diversity–”like one token Indian guy or a single Mexican–”it makes you less aware,” he added. “If your eye catches a couple different skin tones, you subconsciously become less aware of it.”

Young also pointed out that having diversity on TV wouldn’t debunk stereotypes.

“If you’re living somewhere where there aren’t a lot of Asian Americans, you can gain access to these individuals via TV,” he said. “But just watching that minority on your flatscreen doesn’t change who you choose to associate with or your perceptions, because people consider behavior that doesn’t fit their racial construct to be an anomaly.”

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