When did Reality TV Take Over Our Lives?
It’s that time of year again when the nights get longer, the days get shorter and TV watching becomes a staple in most of our lives. Gone are the days when you spend hours outside in the forest, walking the beaches or generally sipping coffee in coffee shops and enjoying an ice-cream with friends. Yep, summer is gone and winter is here, and with it comes that obsession that we are all guilty of. Binge watching TV.
Let’s face it, there is nothing we can really do to avoid it. In most countries around the world, winter brings with it a desire, no a need to hunker down, hibernate, snuggle and watch countless hours of TV with big pots of tea and plates of biscuits.
Sounds idyllic really, doesn’t it? Especially after a long hot summer.
However, the TV companies are always ten steps ahead of us. It seems as if the moment the kids go back to school, our gadgets are suddenly awash with reality TV shows.
However, there is one thing that I realised this year, reality TV is taking over our lives! When did we become a nation that has an almost genetic need to watch and participate in other people’s lives? When did we become so voyeuristic?
This summer, as a ‘scientific experiment‘ (I use that term as loosely as I possibly can) I decided to go back to basics to try and find out why we have become obsessed with other people’s reality.
How? I tuned into Love Island. For an entire series. Lord Help Me!
This summer, each and every day, I turned on my TV to watch relative strangers live together in ‘paradise’ with cameras hidden in each and every single room. I watched them eat dinner, flirt, swap beds, argue, have sex, argue some more, eat some more and sleep. It was… fascinating. But not for the reasons I am sure the producers expected of me.
This week, a teary Emma Willis announced that the original ‘social experiment show’ Big Brother is finally coming to an end. 18 years after the all-seeing eye burst onto our screens, it seems although some are saddened and shocked by the news, many more of us are wondering why on earth it took so long.
When Big Brother first arrived on UK TV, it was something of a phenomenon. Those who took part in the first-ever series had no idea what they were letting themselves in for. They had no idea that they were about to take part in something that would make them famous (or infamous in some cases) around the country. They really had no idea how much of an impact it would have on their lives. Why did they do it? Because it was a ‘new social experiment.’
These days – people queue up to be on the show, fully knowing that this is their ‘big break’ and it will make them famous. That was not the original intention of the show!
From that day on, a splurge of reality TV shows have hit our screens. And not just in the UK. The USA is just as obsessed with ‘reality’ as we are!
The Bachelor – What a great idea? Why not stick one man in the same house as 25 women and let them fight it out for ‘love’ and the attention of one man.
Tell me something, is that not the most barbaric explanation of a dating show you have ever heard? Each and every week this guy stands in front of all these women and publicly humiliates one a week by NOT giving her a rose! Being swiped left or right in quick succession on a mobile phone is one thing, but to be publicly banished from a house full of ‘prettier women’ is quite another.
“Sorry love, I don’t like you enough to give you a flower… hop on home will you”. Utterly humiliating.
Yet from its conception, close to 10 million people tune in each and every week! Many even take part in Bachelor Parties where gaggles of housewives and teenagers gather around a TV screen to watch their fellow women being humiliated. They pour wine and share nibbles and watch these poor women ‘fall in love’ with a man who will most likely humiliate them on national TV.
X-Factor – Want to make it in the pop industry? It seems that these days unless you have a sob story, a fabulous outfit choice and a cracking flirty appeal (cos let’s face it, Nicole only puts through the boys that flirt with her) you are not likely to get anywhere in the music industry. Is this what we are teaching our children?
“No Mum, I need to be remembered – so I need to wear the skimpiest outfit possible, flirt like hell and tell everyone I was bullied, then maybe Simon will pick me!”
And again, what happens? We put these poor people on National TV each week and allow them to be publicly humiliated until we get down to the very last person that we think is ‘good enough’ to win.
However, the humiliation doesn’t end there, does it? As soon as they release their Christmas single, we can all but guarantee that 90% of the population will find fault with it, the radio DJs will say they are unhappy about it being yet another POP song headed for a Christmas No: 1 and six months later the poor sod will be sacked from his record label and disappear into the ‘whatever happened to…?’ lists in Closer or Heat Magazine.
Strictly Come Dancing – Lord above, where do I even start?
So, I am a former dancer myself. I loved to dance. I think everyone should learn to dance. It is the best way to get in shape, it’s fun and as far as I am concerned music makes the world go round. BUT – really? When did we decide it was a good idea to throw a bunch of Z-list celebs together (most of which have two left feet) and expect them to pit themselves against each other for a tacky Glitter ball dance trophy!
Holy hell. Are we that bored that we feel the need to sit and judge others based on whether or not their arms were straight enough or their feet were turned out enough?
I’m a Celebrity – Get me Outta Here – Now I have to confess, I love this show.
I think it is hilarious that we find it acceptable to throw a bunch of C, D and Z list celebs into the middle of the jungle and then we watch them as they pretend that they can handle living without smartphones, gourmet food and plush duvets!
But again, it’s all based on humiliation. Who will scream first? Who will be sick first? Who will lose their rag first when they are all but starved of food and dealing with the hangers? Would any of us actually consider living in the jungle with creepy crawlies, eat rice and beans for weeks and crawl through dark caves infested with cockroaches? No, no we wouldn’t… but celebrities on the brink of being forgotten and in need of a career overhaul – yes, they indeed would. It is utterly insane.
The more that I thought about it, the more I realised that most of our TV habits are now based on voyeurism.
Coronation Street and Emmerdale are really no different. They may be ‘fictional’ characters, but we are still spending our evenings watching other people’s dysfunctional lives. The only difference is now we are so bored with fictional characters and unrealistic plot lines, that we feel the need to make new celebrities.
Reality TV is now no longer Reality TV. Celebrities use these shows to show the best side of themselves in order to boost ratings of others shows, or fix a bad reputation, or re-launch a career. What is ‘real’ about the situations we are watching?
Made in Chelsea – semi-scripted
The Hills – Scripted and Highly over-dramatised
The Kardashians – wow, don’t get me started. Those poor girls are living a life in a goldfish bowl. Although it is real life, would half of the situations they have found themselves in really have happened had they not been ‘chasing ratings’?
Shows like Big Brother have lost the innocence of being ‘Reality TV’ these days. Why? Because when they first started these were normal people being filmed living together for the first time.
These days, the competition to get into ‘The House’ is so high that you have to be ‘aggressive, confrontational, i-don’t-give-a-shit-what-people-think-of-me’ types or you won’t get past the first stage of auditions. The interviews show each of the contests vying to be the most confrontational. They are making up ‘fictional caricatures’ of themselves in the hope that they will be chosen. That is not reality. That is fake.
The same goes for shows such as The Bachelor and Bachelorette. How many of these men and women are like that in real life? Have they not watched these shows day in day out for years and tried to figure out how to ‘get to the final rose’? That is not real life. It’s not even real love. It’s a game show.
Nothing is real anymore. Everyone we watch on the TV now is simply a pseudo-celebrity. Making personalities for themselves purely for fame’s sake.
Back in the early days of TV, to be famous you had to be a kick-ass author, an angelic singer or an incredible TV presenter. Reality TV came in the guise of bird or whale watching with Attenborough and real musicians like Frank Sinatra took to the stage in nothing more than a suit with an incredible voice.
We would never have seen the likes of Ms Munro wearing a dress made of meat or a wig to cover her entire face just to ‘get noticed.’ When did pure talent give way to pathetic fame hungry tactics?
These days, real talent is battling for airtime against the likes of Kim Kardashian and Simon Cowell.
These days. Tom, Dick or Harry can decide that he doesn’t have enough GCSEs to get a good job, he doesn’t really want a real job. He wants to be famous. Not for any real reason, just to be famous. So why the hell not? Don a funky outfit, be aggressive and audition for Big Brother. Boom, career sorted and celebrity status reached.
What in the world have we created?
You know what is even worse? We have become such judgmental critical assholes, that we are no longer satisfied with just watching others f**k up their own lives in public, we now film ourselves watching these ridiculous TV shows and then AIR the TV of us WATCHING TV on TV…
Please tell me that at some point this bubble of craziness will pop and we will start seeing intelligent TV being made again.
Documentaries that teach our children about the world. TV shows like Victoria or Downton Abbey that keep us entertained but educate at the same time. That we will leave the ‘drama’ of real life to the Soap Operas and stop creating these media hungry whores who feel the need to humiliate themselves on TV for our amusement.
Look at it this way: if there really is ‘intelligent life’ out there in the cosmos… they are watching us through a tank in a zoo and wondering why the hell they would ever want to invade a world that takes pleasure out of humiliating each other.
We have essentially become barbaric Gladiators again, watching from the auditorium as man and beast fight it out in the ring for our own amusement.
So next time you settle down to watch TV, think for a moment… are you watching just to see semi-celebs humiliate themselves for the sake of fame, or is this TV show going to teach you something you would want your children to learn?
As I settle down in front of my TV for the evening, remote in hand and TV schedule laid out… what will I choose to watch? The Great British Bake Off (where at least one person will have a close-up shot of them dropping their buns on the floor and crying into a tea towel as I laugh into my cup of tea and store-bought biscuits) or will I switch over to the science documentary and learn about our world?
The likelihood is that I will be watching GBBO. Why? Because I am a hypocrite. That’s why. And I am not afraid to admit it.
I will watch it because, as a writer, I am happy to admit that I am a voyeur. As a human, I will admit that watching others fail allows me to feel a little happier about my own minor accomplishments and because as a consumer, I am lured in by clever advertising, bright and colourful filming and snarling insults.
As much as even I would like to say that I will boycott these awful shows, the ‘reality’ is that they will be my saving grace during the dark and dreary winter nights.
Sad isn’t it really? That despite knowing we should be living in a better world, most of us would admit the same.
We hate the power of celebrity – but would any of you switch off your TV set?