Has reality TV gone too far?
Love it or hate it, reality TV is inescapable. Big Brother started as a social experiment, but has deteriorated ever since. Now a British TV station has launched "Unbreakable" a show which submits its participants to such things as waterboarding. So has reality TV finally gone too far?
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Embarassment for participants
Reality TV shows do feature members of the public who volunteer to appear in such programmes. If you have seen the programme before, you pretty much know what to expect. However, the unexpected occurred in a show aired by Sky One in ‘Find me a Man’ where half a dozen fit young men competed for the attentions of a glamorous woman in a mansion in Ibiza. Little did they know that the ‘glamorous woman’ was in fact a man. Viewers appear to love to laugh at the misfortunes of others (those poor souls on X Factor…), yet can you imagine the embarrassment these men would have to endure when they returned home? The six threatened to sue Sky for defamation in 2003 for breach of contract, personal injury and conspiracy to commit sexual assault (because several of them had kissed and cuddled her) (1). Maybe Sky should have thought first of the embarrassment and degradation they may cause their participants before the potential for ratings.
You have to be a certain type of person to want to find love in such a peculiar environment as this and maybe were stupid in thinking that it would be so straight forward. It was the fault of the participants for willingly appearing on such a show.
Mental health of participants could be damaged
With the inevitable crash and burn of Big Brother on the way, Channel 4 is making a new show similar to it to fill the void. Baby Brother (1) will see a house filled with children aged 8 to 11, who will live alone for two weeks and will not be able to see their parents unless something goes wrong. Does anyone else spot the flaw in this plan? It takes an 8 year-old to burn himself and has to wait for his parents to come whilst the whole nation watches? Not only is it distasteful and frankly disgusting, what kind of concerned parent lets their child leave their sight for two weeks? It is completely ridiculous. The children who have been forced by their parents to be involved in such an experiment will surely be scarred for life.
Of course, it is easy to jump on the band wagon and criticise this new big brother style program. The reality is though, that the people who participated found it very rewarding. As to the example of the children burning themselves, I am very sure that before entering the house the children were lectured in health and safety. I am also quite sure that naked flames would not be in the house. Therefore if a child did burn themselves it would be through touching a hot object, in which case it would be a short pain followed immediately withdrawing their hand from the object. Upon seeing this, the parents are a wall away and it would take them a matter of seconds to get to their child. This is more protection than a child gets in regular day life! A rewarding experience for all involved, including the viewer.
Reality TV forces ‘celebrities’ on the public
The general public are frankly getting sick of the world of ‘celebrity’. Not only that, but are being constantly bombarded with idiots who achieved fame by pleasuring pigs and Calum Best (congratulations, Rebecca Loos). Plus, they are making millions out of doing so by selling their stories to tabloid newspapers. The aforementioned Miss Loos made herself £1.15 million from selling her story to the News of the World (1). Now, if that isn’t reality tv going too far, then I do not know what is.
On the other hand, those who are arguably ‘talentless’ appear on reality TV shows and make themselves a fortune. Who are we too argue? Maybe it is their good business sense to run to a tabloid after eating a witchetty grub and the newspaper obliges. Despite what anyone thinks, they have made themselves a few million from their fifteen minutes of fame. Maybe it was all worth eating a kangaroo testicle.
'That' racial argument
It was possibly the widest publicised racial argument in the world’s history. It was splashed across the cover of every newspaper printed; causing uneasiness between world leaders and sparking more than 3,500 complaints sent to Channel 4 (1).
Shilpa Shetty endured endless bullying about aspects of her culture, particularly her accent, by housemates Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O’Meara. Jade Goody’s mother, who also entered the house, refused to call Shilpa by her name, instead referring to her as ‘The Indian’.
The arguments that erupted in the house led to effigies of Big Brother producers being burned in the streets in India where Shilpa is a popular household name. It was even the subject of discussion at Government level and India’s trade minister warned Gordon Brown that the spat was damaging relations.
Big Brother aired arguments that offended thousands and thousands of people, yet still returns for more. Additionally, this year, thousands of Indians got to watch Jade being diagnosed with cancer on the Indian version of the show. Reality TV is simply out of control.
As much as we do not want to admit it, unfortunately racism does still exist in our society. This argument indicates that racism is still alive and kicking; what damage it can do to the individuals involved along with everyone else and how television and the rest of society can and should fight against it.
Moreover, it brought the debate about racism to the fore and to the masses. Internet forums were full of people discussing what was and was not racism. This dicussion helped educate many people who weren't aware they might have been causing offence.
In addition, we should remember that Shilpa Shetty won Celebrity Big Brother that year, in part, no doubt, because Britons wanted to show we weren't all racist. So by showing the comments of the few we were able to see they weren't shared by - in fact were abhored by - the many. This has to be a good thing.
People have died in connection with reality TV
Makeover shows are a different kind of reality TV: we watch stylists such as the brilliant Gok Wan ‘makeover’ women who lacked confidence in their physical image and turn them into what society would consider beautiful. Many of them do go away happy and the public are happy as a result. But some do go wrong to the point that people have died in relation to the reality TV show. ‘Extreme Makeover’ (1), encouraged family members to mock the appearance of their relative before she underwent her makeover. The night before her life-changing surgery, Hollywood producers dumped Mrs Williams and sent her back to Texas in distress. Not only was Mrs Williams distraught, but her sister actually committed suicide after attacking her image on the show. Some may argue that this is a one-off; that it is due to the personality of the person who participates, but Mrs William’s sister was the fifth suicide in connection with reality TV.
There have been thousands of people that have participated in reality TV shows; of course some will be unstable. In most of the reported deaths, the link between the suicide and the reality TV program is tedious. In the example provided about ‘Extreme Makeover’, the suicide happened four months after being told she would not receive the makeover. The sister of the woman who committed suicide on this occasion was bipolar. This leaves open the possibility that mental health issues ran in the family. Surely this is a stronger link as to why this woman committed suicide as opposed to it being the fault of the realty TV program.
One of the other reported deaths through reality TV was the death of a television producer who committed suicide after appearing on a reality TV show. However, once again, there was another reason behind the scenes, she was an anorexic. I am sure if we looked closely at all the cases, we would see the real reasons for their tragic deaths instead of using reality TV as a scapegoat.
Many reality TV shows are distasteful
Even the most avid viewer of reality TV shows will be disgusted by some shows that are aired all over the world. A TV channel in the Netherlands is to broadcast a programme where a terminally ill woman will pick someone to receive her kidneys. Two heterosexual men were to appear in a show where they had to persuade friends, relatives and strangers that they were, in fact, gay. Up to 20,000 people applied to take part in a series which would have seen ten men stranded with forty lapdancers – with no touching allowed. Thankfully, this was an elaborate joke. The Fox network took people who were adopted, put them before a line-up of strangers and asked them to pick their real father and won £50,000 if they spotted their parent. Not only does these ridiculous programmes offend the morals of society, it is just plain distasteful.
Distasteful to who exactly? The prude British nation? This is the crowd that reality TV was created to fight against. It is designed to expose human nature for what it really is. It is meant to be different. If the actions of the people on these shows offend you, then it shows that you cannot accept reality, what happens on Britain’s streets day in and day out.
Yes, a lucky donee had to be chosen to receive a kidney; doctors do this sort of selection everyday. And if the government were not able to find a kidney for the people who needed it, why is it so wrong that a reality TV show gave someone the opportunity to choose who their organs go to? It is meant to be heart warming. But the old, conservative cynics among you want to criticise anything which breaks against stiff upper lip Britain.
Reality TV higlights taboos in our society
Reality TV does highlight subjects that is not only very sensitive but also considered a taboo in our society. The subject of an ITV programme (1) aired eight years ago was a film following a brilliant pianist and lecturer who developed Alzheimer’s and watched his slow, painful battle. The show did highlight the illness that has for so long remained behind closed doors and did not show the actual death of Malcolm.
It could be argued that this is not so much a reality TV show, more a documentary and is not quite in the same league as the other ‘prize-winning’ reality shows.
Reality TV is watched by millions of viewers
Reality TV is absolutely refusing to die. ITV proved it still had the X Factor by pulling in 10.4 million viewers when Leona Lewis was crowned the winner. It peaked at 11.9 viewers who tuned in for the last fifteen minutes (1). Shows such as the X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing are still recording viewer ratings at 10 million plus when aired on prime-time television on Saturday nights. If reality TV really was going too far, how is it that the British public are continuously glued to their screens?
Some shows are watched by millions. Others, such as The Farm, were not, pulling in a minimal amount of viewers. Those which do prove to be popular should remain, whilst the others should be taken off the air in order to keep the craziness to a mimimum!
Reality TV is ‘good for business’
According to a survey conducted in 2007, the popularity of entrepreneurial reality television programmes – such as The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den – is good for business! Biddy Financial Services found that 42% of bosses of enterprises believed that these programmes inspired a new generation to go into business for themselves and have seen their own staff develop more ambition (1).
Some reality TV shows are just good fun
What makes reality television so gripping is the way we get to see other people’s lives and how different they are compared to our own – we are not going to get that from Emmerdale or Eastenders! Reality television shows how people react to different situations and as an audience get to see how it all pans out. The viewers do love when celebrities get involved. These are the people that we watch on television everyday, the people we listen to on the radio, the people who read the news and run our country. As humans, we love watching celebrities out of their comfort zone; away from the stylists, luxury and comfort. Television has to appear to all kinds of people and reality television is one aspect that has proved to be popular. Many of these shows do not offend or embarrass anyone and are simply good fun.
We slow down to watch a car crash too. As reality TV fights for an audience the tendency to do more and more outrageous things will become immense. The fact that we demand these outrageous things does not mean they should be provided.
If you don’t like it, turn it off!
Thousands of people complain about reality television – it is stupid, it is disgusting, it is pointless. Stop complaining, stop reading The Sun and turn the television off. Simple.
But we shouldn't have to watch reality TV shows - and it appears that every channel is riddled with it so not much choice remains.
What do you think?