Is it time to change reality TV?

21 Mar 2013

It was recently announced that the German version of One Born Every Minute was due to be banned as it was, in their opinion “an invasion of privacy”. Of course some news channels and talk show programmes such as This Morning were quick to question this decision. But one question kept cropping up; has reality TV gone too far?
After all, you only need to name a town, a life event or a type of person and there is probably a reality show about it somewhere. Whether you want a close up view of someone’s ugly toes (or worse!) on Embarrassing Bodies or whether you’re desperate to know just who the Jewish mother of the year is, it’s all available with the click of a button.


Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a bit of reality TV, I think it’s a great way to just wind down, forget about your own problems and maybe even learn something new. And they are some of the most popular shows out there. It’s all based on our human ‘need’ to ‘people watch’, whether its judging people for their shopping as you strut down the aisles in ASDA or taking your favourite seat in the comfy coffee shop and watching the world go by – we all do it.

But at what point does welcoming cameras into your life become an invasion of privacy?  For me, reality TV has always been something to laugh at and almost mock as you watch people pass stupid comments or fall over in front of everyone. But there comes a point when even I question “Did we really need to see that?” For any avid TOWIE (The Only Way Is Essex) fans you’ll have seen that over the last few weeks we have seen the fluffy haired Joey Essex brought to tears as he remembers his mum who tragically died when he was young. While I except the show aims to be ‘as real as possible’, the private moments you share when you lose someone are, in my opinion not ones that should be publicised or displayed all over national TV. Of course you can see how showing a character’s softer side would only enhance how the public felt towards them – which can only be beneficial for TV ratings. But in the bitter world of TV is it really necessary to exploit people’s feelings just to get views?

The world of Reality TV is a tricky one; it has plenty benefits but it’s plagued with problems and doubt. At no point would I insist you turn it off, I believe it’s a matter of personal choice whether you choose to watch it or not. Personally, I think if you take it in the right way and accept that the majority of what you are watching isn’t ‘Real’ it’s planned and staged then that’s fine. But once you start to convince yourself that everything said or done on them are real or use it purely to laugh at people, be careful because you might just be falling for the act. But no one is forced to watch then and after all one of the greatest arguments in favour of Reality TV is simple – If you don’t like it, switch it off.

Of course there are many more arguments in favour of Reality TV, not least the fact that it highlights subjects which would normally be a taboo and get people talking. Shows such as ‘People Like Us’ aim to change the stereotypes forced upon certain people or areas and prove that not everyone is who the ‘media’ claim them to be. Sure enough, Reality TV has also been good for business and the economy, especially helping those who have gone on to form their own businesses, as scratch and sales of merchandise from shows such as TOWIE have sky rocketed. But the main reason that Reality TV has done so well is because so many people enjoy it, whether you watch it for fashion tips (especially with the likes of Made In Chelsea), or because you love a good controversy, a debate or just a laugh, Reality TV is becoming more and more popular. 

However, there are constant calls for updates to the format and the way in which Reality TV shows are run. After all, the biggest complaint about these shows is the embarrassment factor, you only have to tune into big shows like Tool Academy or the X Factor to see the level at which contestants and people involved are embarrassed. The aim of so many shows is to embarrass people, ratings thrive when we have someone to point and laugh at. Now, of course, fans would argue that you choose to take part in these shows and therefore you only have yourself to blame and to some degree I do agree with this. But in today’s ‘fame hungry’ world it’s little surprise what some people will do just to get their fifteen minutes of fame. It all comes back down to the issue of exploitation, at what point are we using and exposing people to the point of no return?

Although, throughout this, we can’t dispute the success of some of these shows, shows that have given birth to some of the biggest celebrities right now. Of course we have the X Factor to thank for One Direction, JLS and Olly Murs, and Britain’s Got Talent for the likes of Diversity, Susan Boyle and the national craze of dog dancing. We definitely cannot deny the recent success of shows such as Great British Bake Off, which have stirred the nation into an egg and flour cake frenzy. These shows have got us talking and in some cases got us moving, which can only be beneficial as we struggle through the doom and gloom of yet another recession. 

The sad fact is, with all this success comes problems, because naturally ratings improve with drama and arguments. We have all driven slowly past a car accident to get a better look or stopped shopping when we heard a couple arguing. However, the biggest argument against Reality TV is that it isn’t actually real - the majority of the time they are all staged and faked. It was often reported that producers on certain Reality TV shows would discreetly cause arguments and force ‘rivals’ to meet up and ‘air their problems’ in order to get a good show. We mustn’t forget that reality shows shoot many more hours of footage than what can be shown in a 30- or 60-minute program, which leaves editors with  the chance to place together selected footage in order to tell a certain story however they want to – putting them into the role of ‘Story Teller’. This means that the majority of what we see isn’t ‘real’, it all goes back to the idea of exploitation – these ‘home grown celebrities’ are being used to create good TV but we are all being told it’s all true. They are being led into believing arguments have happened and things have been said which haven’t, which must be damaging. Life is hard enough without someone directing every move and throwing drama at you all the time.

Steve Adubato, Media Analyst on wrote “One wonders when reality show producers and network executives who put these programs on the air will say, “Enough is enough. Here’s where the line is and we’re not crossing it — even for ratings!” But don’t expect that anytime soon. The ratings are just too big, and the money is too good.  All reality shows are not the same, and all the reality show producers aren’t sleazy creeps who root for bad things to happen in order to drive ratings through the roof. I sometimes wonder how some of these people sleep at night. Don’t you?”

By Jilly McKiernan

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