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Reality TV: A Media Malfunction

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In a state of lockdowns and home quarantines, the one thing that kept us company was our TVs and the internet. The wondrous thing about these media is the depth of drama they always seem to provide us with. While it’s no myth that there are innumerable things that we can watch to escape our boredom, the fact is that one genre offers the most entertaining and thrilling experience that goes beyond our wildest imaginations, reality TV.

Today, reality TV is a multimillion-dollar market that has been exploited to its full potential. Think of the most insane concept for a reality TV show, and I bet you, it will have been done.

So, what truly makes reality TV so entertaining to binge? Big Brother, Love Island, and Survivor are all big names in the world of reality TV. However, when you think of these shows, if scripted fights and cringe-worthy scenes aren’t the first things that pop into your mind, I suggest you take a closer look.

Regardless, reality TV is a bored person’s delight and a critic’s worst nightmare. We, as human beings, are naturally drawn to what these shows sell in the name of ‘totally real and non-scripted’ content. Why? Be it the extravagant sets or the ‘full of quirks’ characters, it just fits the right scene at the right time, for the right kind of people. But today, despite all the staged fights and over the top acting scenes, ratings become increasingly difficult to hold and even more challenging to improve. Hence, we see all kinds of efforts to make content edgier, more innovative, and more attention-grabbing.

But, is this truly making reality TV better?

Do reality shows that are open to the public for participation promote harmful acts just for the ratings? Shows like the Biggest Loser and Extreme Weight Loss, take obese people and work them to the bone in order to slim them down, with no care for their actual health. And whether or not this is real, the struggle and the pain we see on TV is certainly not fake and definitely no laughing matter. 

That’s not all, there are tailor-made shows just to confirm and promote stereotypes. Indian Matchmaking on Netflix is clearly based on heavy stereotypes about the marriage process in India. Regardless of it being true to some extent, it overemphasizes the worst attributes of arranged marriages. Moreover, Keeping up with the Kardashians and The Real Housewives have one too many seasons, focusing on dysfunctional and rich family and relationship stereotypes.

Most importantly though, what does this really say about the content we seek out to watch and what we, as viewers, ask of those on screen?

The Other End of The Spectrum

If stereotypes were one end of the spectrum, the other end is still just as dramatic. Extreme sports and survival shows have been just as successful in capturing our attention and, without a hitch, our ratings. However, these shows have been just as brutal to its participants as it has been for us to watch. The line between human distress and entertainment television has become almost indistinguishable. Contestants of the Biggest Loser have gone through vilifying ‘fat-shaming’ and torturous fad diets that served more long term trauma and health problems than it did benefits. With all honestly, in what world did pitting obese people against each other in a fight to lose the most weight become the essence of a good TV show?

If that wasn’t enough, shows that run on scripted fights and manifest violent challenges still have a considerable number of racial slurs, abusive behavior, and vulgar statements that are passed off as having happened ‘in the heat of the moment’. This is painfully evident in shows such as ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Love Island’ which, regardless of their amusing and dramatic nature, is everything that reality TV has digressed to in the worst of ways. Not only is this fringing on offense to millions of people watching but also normalizing such toxic cultures in a world where respect is regarded as a given right to everyone, everywhere. Most importantly though, what does this really say about the content we seek out to watch and what we, as viewers, ask of those on screen?

To put it lightly, the culprit here stands to be a new age of media commercialization and an ensuing shift in news values. As people start to crave content that is surprising, shocking, titillating, and, to say the least, theatrical, media producers fail to find much else that works to get that rating graph up. Nevertheless, whether this compromise is one we should hail in the name of good TV or reject for the sake of human ethics and morals, we may never know.

It’s evident for us as TV viewers that there are shows which are entertaining and equally appropriate in what they show as content. So the real question is, what is it exactly that’s leading this shift into these over-exaggerated and overrated programs? Regardless of the reason, this trend is here to stay and likely to become an even bigger issue than we could ever imagine. It isn’t our fault, it’s just the collective power of the majority, but maybe one day, if enough people understand the impact of reality media forms on the likes of us, the majority could turn.

Which way? Well, that’s up to us to decide.

 

Cover: cottonbro

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