This article was originally published in the 2010-2011 academic year.
Reality TV: truly, the Marmite of the new millennium. You either love it or you hate it, but either way you can’t seem to escape it. Nowadays it’s broadcast on every channel, written about in every newspaper and magazine, and discussed all over the internet. If you somehow manage to not know even the tiniest detail about what’s going on in the world of reality TV then I applaud you, and also pity you for having to live under a very large rock in the middle of a very remote desert. But for those of us who aren’t so removed from today’s mainstream culture, we have to ask ourselves – is reality TV really worthy of our attention on such a vast scale?
I imagine at this point in reading the article, a lot of you have (as a natural reflex of sorts, perhaps) instantaneously started screaming “NO!” very loudly at this copy of The Rabbit which you hold in your hand (whether that be just in your head, or actually out loud – the latter conjuring up some particular hilarious images, you crazy readers). And to your credit, I’d agree with you. Back in the early days when Big Brother was a fresh and exciting idea for a social experiment, we might have been partial to the idea of sitting down and watching a bunch of nobodies for entertainment. But as with every phenomenon, people just didn’t know when to stop and things have since spiralled out of control. The phrase “too much of a good thing” has perhaps never been more appropriate. When there were just one or two reality TV programmes on our screens, it was fine, but now you can’t seem to go a day without seeing one – and let’s face it, the ones we have these days are, for the want of a better term, utter rubbish.
So, where did it all go so disastrously wrong for reality TV if it seemed to start out so well? Big Brother is perhaps the best example to use here, not simply because it is the most iconic reality TV programme, but because it accurately reflects the rise and fall of the genre. Its early run was a hit but eventually it needed a few twists to keep viewers coming back for more so we started seeing a handful of ‘interesting’ contestants… and then two handfuls… and then soon the whole house was just full of weirdos and any sense of ‘reality’ that the show had originally possessed had gone out of the window in favour of shameless voyeurism. Thankfully, most people cottoned on to this fact and ratings plummeted dramatically, resulting in Channel 4 finally giving it the chop last year.
However, there are still plenty of reality shows that manage to pull in massive audiences every week. This is partly due to the widespread media coverage and of course the faithful fans, but I also think that those of us who continually complain about the poor quality are to blame as well. Any publicity is good publicity, and the more of a fuss you kick up about something, the more attention it receives. I imagine many people might tune in to a reality TV show for the sole reason of seeing if it really is as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Instead of trying to boycott the shows and giving them plenty of free publicity in the process, the best way to show your resistance to reality TV is to take the Big Brother route and simply ignore it. If enough people stop caring, it’ll go away on its own accord.
That’s not to say I disapprove of people who enjoy watching such programmes though – by all means, feel free to enjoy them. I actually agree that it’s not all bad when it comes to reality TV, because when it does manage to spew out a few interesting scenarios or characters, they honestly can be great sources of entertainment. Wagner, for instance, kept us glued to our screens during last year’s series of The X Factor (be it for better or worse). When reality TV gets it right, it’s potentially pure television gold; however it’s when it goes over the top with the wackiness that it comes unstuck – it is meant to be ‘reality’ TV after all!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a party to attend at Wagner’s love shack (la la love shack). Everybody movin’, everybody groovin’.