The grip of reality TV


It’s a Saturday night and you begin your usual ritual of settling down in the front of the TV with your sweets and snacks for a night of entertainment. Flicking from channel to channel you’re greeted with programs such as Come Dine with Me, Splash and Strictly Come Dancing, and that’s only on the terrestrial channels. Reality TV has well and truly invaded each of our screens, but why does it have such a grip on us?

Arguably, the most popular type of reality television remains to be talent shows, with X Factor springing to everyone’s minds. As a nation we are obsessed with these ordinary people who are vaulted to singing stardom overnight, but why? How does this affect our lives at all? Simply because we feel connected to those we see on the television every week, we feel as though we know these contestants and care about what happens to them. And so we vote in our thousands, desperate for the likes of One Direction to make it big – a few series behind, I know. Moreover, we love the fact that ordinary people have the opportunity to become famous whoever they are, almost as if it could be us on that stage every week.

Reality television now knows no boundaries, for what started off as talent shows and cooking programmes has developed to simply following the lives of somewhat out-of-the-ordinary people. A prime example being Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, the newest American reality child star showing us her adventures with her “crazy family”, and crazy they are. This branch of reality TV gives us an insight into lives that are different from our own, and we are obsessed with anything different. My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, for instance, documents a type of life that none of us are familiar with, and let’s face it, we just cannot get enough of those huge dresses. The huge pineapple and palm tree dresses remain to be beaten.

However, reality TV can be seen as having a sinister side. Are we simply captivated by these shows because it’s an opportunity to laugh at those more unfortunate than ourselves? Personally, I can’t bear watching X factor auditions and don’t see the fun in laughing at people who genuinely think they can sing. Yet, the sinister side can come from the reality stars themselves rather than the audience. The latest controversial series of Celebrity Big Brother has already received 342 complaints from viewers, with Director of Mediawatch Vivienne Pattinson branding it “a new low for Big Brother”. Contestants are shocking audiences on a regular basis with fights, sex and abusive comments, which is definitely a common theme running through reality television today. Reality stars are being more and more outlandish to raise their profiles and viewing figures, but personally, I think we’ve all grown a bit tired of shocking reality TV moments.

There certainly is a dark side to reality TV but with it, it brings shows that many people enjoy and has even lead to the development of new hybrids of television genres. The “docu-soap” combines elements of soaps and documentaries to produce programmes such as The Only Way is Essex and Made in Chelsea, the latter being a favourite of mine. This hybrid makes for comfortable reality viewing as it is constructed as a scripted programme would be, so even though we are watching the lives of ordinary people we feel a bit detached from them as we don’t have to put up with the annoying interview commentaries like on Geordie Shore. With the rise of social media we love the fact that we are somehow connected to these reality stars, and can easily follow all of them on Twitter, and because of social media we can almost guarantee that these types of reality programmes will only become a more established television genre.

Reality television has well and truly invaded our screens and does indeed have a grip on us. But whether you love it or loathe it, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find one reality programme that will be perfect for you and that will soon become your television guilty pleasure.

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