Reality Television may be the most prominent genre on our screens these days. It’s hated, it’s loved and it’s everything in between. Culturally and societally, its impact is huge.
The concept of unscripted, real-life situations on television is highly addictive for a lot of people and it’s easy to see why. There’s something for everyone as we watch normal people try find love, perform tasks, show off a particular talent or just simple reality sitcoms.
It’s easy to watch, non-complex and allows us to switch off. You can watch it on the couch glancing back and forth between your phone without needing to pay that much attention, while at the same time not missing much content.
Reality TV has always been subject to criticism. Many believe it’s generally lazy, low-budget television that shows ordinary people doing very little while taking away key slots from ‘real’ television. Other more serious questions have risen around dating shows like Love Island.
Some believe the problem with Love Island is that it gives us an unrealistic ideal of what the female and male body should look like. These people who are supposed to represent reality have unattainable looks and bodies, causing people to look in the mirror and wonder why they look so different. This can lead to body dysmorphia for some; a mental health condition where people can’t stop thinking about their own flaws, flaws often invisible outside of their own mind.
A large proportion of females on the show are blonde, thin and have had some form of cosmetic procedure. In the two weeks following the beginning of this year’s show searches for lip-filler on Irish cosmetic practitioner Save Face rose by 37%.
A lot of the men are tall and muscular, and there is always a glaring lack of ethnic diversity. Another cosmetic practitioner SISU clinics, following the 2018 series, saw a 200% surge in bookings for lip fillers, with more than 35% of these from men.
It’s not just the viewers affected by the show.
Many contestants going on Love Island haven’t experienced fame before the show, they walk in as a nobody and are unprepared when they walk out a star. Questions have been raised about the ethicality of the show as previous contestants Sophie Gradon (32) and Mike Thalassitis (26) have both died by suicide.
Sophie, in an interview a few months before her death talked about trolls and negative comments online. She said: “there would be so many negative comments. They are commenting on the way you look, the way you talk. They would come up with an opinion of you on a TV show where they’ve watched you for 45 minutes.”
The show has become more vigilant in its vetting process for the contestants with regards to mental health in recent years and has done more in preparing them for life after its all over, but the deaths still haunt the glitz and glamour around this love contest.
There is a necessity to take the ‘reality’ in reality TV with a pinch of salt, the people you see are the 1% and often whittled down from tens of thousands of applicants. Many of the contestants go in with nothing and come out famous and rich.
Nobody is being forced to go on Love Island, just as nobody is forcing you to watch it. But still there are legions of fans who can’t get enough of the show.
Reality TV isn’t perfect, its flawed just like the society it’s representing. The genre is a spectrum and can be fantastic. RuPaul’s Drag Race’s gives much needed representation on our screens to the LGBTQ+ community. Big Brother was a fascinating human experiment in its prime, it’s social media version The Circle is also a brilliant concept. Highlighting the ease with which people can wrongly trust strangers on the internet who may be a ‘catfish’.
Reality TV is always morphing and changing overtime. It’s important that as they change now and, in the future, the health and well-being of those on camera and the viewership is always prioritised, in order for the genre to survive.