Reality TV is Trash TV?

“I have just lost all respect for you” is the reaction I usually receive when I proclaim my fondness of reality TV shows such as Big Brother and The Only Way Is Essex. As if, for some reason, I should ‘know better’.

big brother

From what I have witnessed, it is often the case that the people who react in this way have watched very little of the genre and are basing their opinion on ill-founded preconceptions. I’ve had people say to me that I’m too intellectual to watch Big Brother and doing so would surely lower my IQ. I have never understood this because we can learn things from reality TV; what better way is there to learn than through observation?

Reality TV is a broad term stemming from talent based shows such as The X Factor to ‘fly-on-the-wall’ ‘documentaries’ such as The Osbournes. It is the latter that seems to bear a problem with my peers. They say I should be getting on with my own life instead of watching other people’s. But I don’t agree. Shows like this give a normal, university student like me the chance to see how other people live. I especially enjoy Big Brother because I get to learn about different personalities and perspectives. Okay, so the producers of Big Brother obviously choose controversial characters who they hope will clash and therefore make good television, but I still get an insight into people who I otherwise might be unlikely to meet. From a psychological point of view, I find it interesting to watch how people interact with one another and how they react to stressful situations. I often get the feeling that people think I’m gullible, but I am fully aware that it’s all edited and what I’m seeing may not be a perfectly accurate representation of real life.

And then came the ‘fake reality’ genre. Starting in the USA with The Hills, this blur of real life and scripted television has spawned shows in the UK such as The Only Way is Essex and Made In Chelsea. Why would people dislike this genre? Is it because some (if not all) of it is scripted? Is it because they feel they are being lied to – tricked into believing it is all reality? If so, isn’t it comparable to watching a soap like Coronation Street? It is rare I watch an episode and find myself wondering if the scene is real or not. I take it with a pinch of salt. Whether it’s real or not, I’m enjoying it. After all, isn’t that one of the main purposes of television?

There has been concern that shows like this are giving young females the wrong impression of social interaction between all female groups. According to this article on what reality TV is teaching teenage girls, females who watch shows like this are more likely to think gossiping, being catty and fighting with female friends is the norm. But don’t other TV shows convey this too, albeit maybe not to the same extent. Maybe this isn’t the fault of reality TV, but the lack of education towards how ‘real’ these type of shows really are.

Maybe, being the powerful communication tool that it is, TV could provide this education, being the solution to it’s own problem.