Back to life, back to reality TV

(Originally written for Gair Rhydd 22/10/19 )

Reality television and TV talent shows are amongst the most common types of programmes broadcasted around the UK. On a larger scale, it has taken over a large part of the world with the likes of Big Brother in India and America’s Got Talent taking the USA by storm. These shows are often classed as “Trash TV” and are looked down upon in comparison to other forms of programmes due to their dramatic and often staged nature. This genre even allows people at home to watch other people watching TV on their own TV because of shows like Gogglebox; but who decides what “Trash TV” is and what isn’t? Throughout this column I will discuss the perks of watching such shows and how they shouldn’t be disregarded based on the assumption that they are not necessarily a challenging watch.

TV talent shows have been around since the 1970s , although their increase in popularity grew in the early 2000s with shows such as Pop Idol, Popstars and following them the never-ending X Factor franchise. These TV talent shows enable regular members of the British public to showcase their talents and to put their name out there in the field that they would like to pursue. It allows its viewers to appreciate different musical abilities and styles, educating them as a result.

“Trash TV” can be seen as a sort of escapism for some, as perhaps they binge watch these easy-watching shows to distract from the stresses of everyday life. If you are a struggling with deadlines or are feeling a bit down, glancing at the lives of strangers or celebrities can be relaxing. The likes of Big Brotherand the celebrity equivalent allowed their audiences to view drama that maybe lighten the weight of their own worries. Another example of this so-called “Trash TV” which involves audiences watching celebrities roam around is I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here, although this is set in the Australian jungle, so has a unique appeal to its viewers.

In comparison to X Factor and other competition based shows, the likes of The Great British Bake Offand Masterchefare seen as programmes to be celebrated although, at the crux of it they are incredibly similar. All of these examples see contestants showcasing their passions and demonstrating their talents. These cooking competitions represent another cultural element of reality TV, as they present different dishes and different styles of cooking inspired by various cultures around the globe, thus educating the British public in the process. Personally, without Bake Off I would have no idea what a croquembouche was and I would have completely misunderstood how to blind bake.

This idea of educating the public through easy watching can be seen through the viewing of Strictly Come Dancing, as it offers those who aren’t usually interested in the arts insight into the world of dance. It enables it audiences to separate the Paso doble and the Argentinean tango, and they can see the differences between the cha cha cha and the rumba; perhaps they are even inspired to give the Charleston a go themselves. It’s arguable that due to the large following of these shows, they maybe verge more towards culturally educating than traditional shows.

Although, reality TV can be seen as negative to some viewers as a result of the likes of Love Island, where the perfect hair and the perfect body is thrust upon its audience in the shape of their contestants. According to YouGovone in four people (24%) aged 18–24 say reality TV makes them worry about their body image. Although the show is entertaining perhaps it does more harm than good, as it increases image issues in its viewers. Perhaps you could argue that the male bravado leads to further toxic masculinity also, both things that negatively impact their young audiences.

Another example of a reality TV competition would be the popular American show RuPaul’s Drag Race, which has recently come to the UK. This series allows Drag Queens from around America and the UK to compete to win the title of “next drag superstar”. In contrast to the image issues that Love Islandcauses, Drag Raceendorses self-love with RuPaul chanting “If you can’t love yourself, then how the hell can you love somebody else”. Not only that but this show provides a platform for the LGBTQ+ community and allows them to be correctly represented in the media. This form of reality shouldn’t be frowned upon for being easy watching, due to the educational and personal content that can be viewed from the show. The queens discuss their backgrounds and experiences with their sexualities and as a result can be valuable for those going through a similar time to view. Perhaps as a result RuPaul’s Drag Racewill also raise awareness of the issues within the LGBTQ+ community and deter future homophobic abuse.

The most recent reality show craze is the Channel 4 show The Circle, a show where those who participate have no physical contact with each other and communicate through a social media network. This show invites a new dystopian genre of reality show as it draws on the type of things we see in Black Mirrorand draws upon perhaps the reality of the future of technology and life behind screens. Less of a reality show and more of a social experiment, perhaps as result educating the audience on the dangers of technology and social media, whilst simultaneously being entertaining. This was the original effect of Big Brotheras it was modelled on the Orwellian idea from the novel1984, and this idea of someone monitoring and watching over us was a terrifying idea, but to know that this could be happening through social media, a programme like The Circleis necessary.

With reality TV such as Love Island, Bake Offand I’m a Celebritytopping the BARB’s online viewing records in 2017, and their viewers growing annually, there is a need to destroy the stigma surrounding “Trash TV”. Perhaps as a result this would decrease the amount of people hate watching shows, and also allow those to watch these programmes to destress in peace.