There is a place for comfort food in our diets, why not our entertainment too?
From shows like Love Island and Big Brother, real people regularly offer themselves up for our entertainment. They seek fame and fortune; we seek good TV. It’s all just a bit of fun, right? Right?
Since it first landed on our screens, reality TV has been dismissed as dumbed down television. Critics point out that many (most) reality programmes are set up.
Interactions are scripted, shows are edited to suit a narrative and the viewer is only shown what programme-makers want them to see. It's true, and it can be hard to keep in mind that there is little reality about these shows. But does that matter?
The world is a mess, so perhaps some light entertainment provides a respite from the madness. It doesn’t mean you’re not keeping up with the news or watching more ‘intelligent’ TV too.
In The Headlines
The good TV vs bad TV discussion got a lot more serious this week, however, with ITV2’s Love Island making headlines. A former 2016 contestant, Sophie Gradon is thought to have died by suicide. The news prompted a flurry of debate on the link between her TV appearance and her death. In recent years she had posted on social media about dealing with depression. Are the two linked? That’s hard to say but it would take a steely personality to ride the wave of reality show fame.
Last year's series of Love Island also drew attention with UK women’s charity, Women’s Aid issuing a statement on the behaviour of the contestant, Adam Collard. It expressed concern about Collard’s actions in relation to co-contestant and (former) romantic partner, Rosie Williams. He was smug and dismissive of Williams’ upset feeling and in a statement the charity said,
“On the latest series of Love Island, there are clear warning signs in Adam’s behaviour. In a relationship, a partner questioning your memory of events, trivialising your thoughts or feelings, and turning things around to blame you can be part of the pattern of gaslighting and emotional abuse.”
Undoubtedly Collard’s behaviour towards Williams and other women on the show is problematic and he needs to address it. However, Adam, who’s just 22 years old, will leave the show to discover he has become a poster boy for domestic and emotional abuse. What are the repercussions for him in his life now?
That’s the other thing about reality TV: for it to be successful, viewers have to be invested. Someone to love, a couple to root for… and someone to hate.
Sure, some reality show contestants sign up so they can kickstart a career as a celebrity. Are they fully conscious that their behaviour is being beamed into thousands of homes? Or do the ubiquitous cameras become invisible after a week or two?
Ill-advised behaviour can leave regrets in everyday life - how would it be to emerge after it all to find your face splashed on tabloids and your behaviour criticised on social media?
Many former reality TV contestants have spoken about the after-effects of the sudden explosion of fame; riding the wave of publicity for a while and dealing with the crash when the world moves on. And those are the ones they public didn't turn on.
Is reality TV bad for us, the viewers? Not really – the contestants though, may give another answer.