Reality TV and Its Descent Into Fake Unreality


For this week in the #BATTLEROYALE contest, our team has the topic "Entertainment & Arts". I had decided to do a piece on Reality TV and I was glad of the extra insight from some of the girls who had the topic last week. Both @Empatheticlady and @RedEyeMindTricks wrote great takes on the area of Reality TV

For my part I am going to discuss my initial attraction to Reality TV and how I slowly fell away from it but that said there are still the odd Reality TV shows that still get my attention. I am also going to talk a bit about its effects on society and the contestants themselves.

(1) The First Thing We Must Say Is That It Is Unreality:

I don't think anybody even its fans or its critics believe there is anything remotely realistic about these programmes. At its best, it is a social experiment within firm guidelines to produce the pre chosen routes a show takes. At its worst, it is just people being manipulated, used and disposed of by the criteria of ratings. As I said there are those that love these shows (for many, a guilty pleasure) and there are those who hate them. I have nothing against anybody's view but for me, I go back to the quote from Steven Soderbergh above who calls them a "form of fiction". I agree with this especially in the early days when I felt the shows were an exaggerated reflection of real life, made unrealistic by things like keeping a group in a house and cutting off contact with the outside world (Big Brother), an interesting social experiment but unlikely to happen voluntarily in the real world apart from a Reality TV show or other form of social experiment.

(2) In The Beginning:

Many people my age would have probably first noticed Reality TV in the UK/Ireland around the early 2000s when Big Brother first appeared on our screens. Big Brother was a successful show in The Netherlands and it sold the franchise to many countries with each developing its own format. Big Brother UK allowed the social structure to evolve in the house but the public vote have all the power in deciding evictions and the winner. The early runs of the series for me were the best with the cast members less aware of how the show worked, they forgot the cameras more quickly and in a sense acted more normal. During the early years, I often felt myself rooting for characters who were becoming more aware about themselves, they saw something they wanted to change about themselves. It was fascinating to see if they achieved any realisation about themselves or if they did, did they follow through on their new thoughts.

Unfortunately though the producers wanted more drama for the ratings and began to manipulate events for the later series. They began to deliberately create tension, introduce alcohol fuelled environments and often let bullying, unfair peer pressure and allow unhealthy cliques to form that is why I began to drift away from Reality TV in the format of Big Brother.

(3) The "Talent" Show:

These days I record the "Talent" show and cherry pick the best bits to watch later, it saves so much time if you are just watching the good acts and leave out the "Funny" bits , the "Sob Stories" and the "Mean" (laughing at people) bits. For an audition show on the X Factor, you would only have to watch 10 minutes out of a 90 minute show. I always had my suspicions about this but then my friend got a job as an editor on a Reality TV Talent show and confirmed it for me. He said that all the acts were seen first by the producers, the following were earmarked the really good, the deluded ones (who would be laughed at), the angry ones who think they are good but will get angry when criticised, the sob story and the golden egg, a shy person or someone who doesn't realise how good they are.

I worked with a guy who fell into the deluded category, I found out he was told to go to every audition and if he did, he would be allowed into the next round, all in the name of entertainment. Also we have the public vote element in the UK/Ireland, it means that often the "Popular" act rather than the most "Talented" act wins. My friend told me that the producers also wanted a geographical spread of finalists to maximise the number of people who will vote on premium phonelines. You have seen it on the UK shows the "Funny Not Very Talented" act goes a long way but each week it gets through, a talented act gets knocked out.

(4) The Human Cost Or "Your 15 Minutes Of Fame": I suppose sometimes you forget that these people are human beings, For a couple of months, they are on your TV, in your newspapers, magazine and on your internet news feed. They are given their "15 Minutes Of Fame" then it is cruelly taken away with no support. Even the people that win, out all the people who participated on shows like this, how many people have made a career out of their exposure on the show, very few.

Have you ever watched a Reality TV show and looked at a cast member thinking to yourself that maybe there could be a psychological problem developing in the background. The behaviour of the person seems to be unravelling, acting out of character or outside the norms of society. If it gets too bad, a person is removed but what happens then. Also you sometimes wonder if a person could have been helped earlier. A final thought for this section - Is there enough psychological aftercare on these shows or are the people just discarded?

I recall a show called "Ladette To Lady" in the UK which was quite funny with hard drinking party girls sent to a ladies finishing school but the series I remember from the show were the Australian versions whether by accident or design, they cast some very complicated troubled young Australian women to go to the school. One in particular stood out, she was 20, she was a stripper, came from a broken home, her boyfriend was in jail for armed robbery and she had a drink problem. She used to get drunk and strip when she wasn't supposed to at the club, it was actually the club manager who put her name forward for the show.

She got to the show and for some reason hit it off with two of the teachers, they were meant to be really strict but all they did was say to her that "She was worth more than that". They listened to her problems, she fell off the wagon a few times and got really upset not for herself but because she let the teachers' down. Her family wouldn't come to the graduation ceremony so she asked the teachers to go with her instead. There was a "One Month Later" show and she said she was giving up stripping to go back to school. Everyone was thrilled but you wonder when the cameras stopped rolling, did the production company ever check up on her welfare again to see did she fully turn that corner and get back on her feet.


I think in its early days of Big Brother UK, I had high hopes for Reality TV as a social experiment and people finding out about themselves, learning ways to make their life better. The cast members could come out as better individuals than they went in but the dye seems to have been cast it is all about money, ratings and drama. The social experiment has gone by the wayside. Reality TV is cheap to produce, when I was in my teens it was about all about fictional drama on the TV with the only real life shows being the news, the odd farming programme or documentary.

Now for every hour of fictional drama there is about 20 hours of Reality TV because it is financially more efficient. It seems to have become very formulaic now, I see a show advertised on MTV now "You're The One", 15 matched couples , if the 15 couples pick the correct match, you win a million dollars and the one you love almost thrown in as an afterthought. Okay, step back (1,000,000/30 = 33.33k) but you see the priority list forming in their mind Airtime, Money, Airtime, Airtime, Money, Money, ........ and about number 77th someone thinks "Oh yeah, I might meet my future SO".

It seems a bit weird to use the term "Halycon Days" in relation to Reality TV but I do miss them when you cared about the people on the show and rooted for them not waited for them to slip up so you could laugh at them or for them to do something that annoyed you.

Thanks for reading.


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What Girls Said 1

  • 2mo

    Very well-written as usual. See, now I actually like to watch the funny bits like on American Idol when all these people audition to be the next best singer. You have all these people acting as if their voice is the best when it sounds like an animal dying really. I'm aware that this part of the show is dramatized, but that's fine. I like to laugh either way. :P


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