The reality of reality TV

Oh yes. It’s that time of year again…the sun is (partially) out, smock dresses and flip flops are impossible to obtain and the freezer is overflowing with Calippos. All of this is a surefire sign of the good news we wait for every June…

Love Island.

Ok, so lets be clear, I don’t watch this shit with the same level of obsession that many others seem to. But (and I hate myself a bit for this) I do find myself getting a little excited that, if all else fails, there will be something I can tolerate on the TV every evening at 9pm for several weeks. Love Island is an excellent distraction from reality and that single hour of viewing gives me a high of relaxation that could only be replicated illegally.

I’ve just called it ‘shit’ and instantly regret doing so, but not enough to remove the comment. Because that’s the perpetual issue with the program (I think). We love to hate it. It’s audio visual marmite, and it does a great job as such.

But for me Love Island is an example of how reality TV is now feasting on itself and spitting out viewers and participants in the process. As we go through the cycle each year, there always seem to be casualties who pay the price mentally. So should we keep watching? Why has it got this bad? What do we do?

Has reality TV gone too far?

Love Island is the most popular reality show on ITV throughout the summer. They spend a fortune on the production and this year the guests will have a brand new villa to enjoy with all the usual mod cons for us back home in dreary blighty to fawn over.

But when you look past the veneer of infinity pools, casa amore and fire pits, what you’re left with is a show that seems to promote beauty, popularity and sex above all things and has little care or consideration for the wellbeing of the people involved (and maybe those watching too) who don’t fit that lifestyle.

Many of us outside of the clique are left feeling…inadequate I guess.

Now, the Love Island vs. Mental Health campaign started years ago and I’ll admit they seem to have cleaned up their act more recently. There are obvious changes to the way they manage the health of their ‘stars’ each year (and hopefully the presenters too).

But it feels like reality TV and our understanding of mental illness have been travelling in parallel for the last 15 to 20 years, and as the momentum gains in the shows, so does the growth in the MH epidemic. I’m not suggesting that they are intrinsically linked, but reality TV has more power than most other programming to have an effect on our emotions and the emotions of those involved. In my opinion, that’s something we need to be consciously aware of.

Love Island is a show based on desirability. Producers know it’s addictive because they’ve created a melting pot of lust – an incredible ability to make watchers crave what they see. Beautiful people, tanned even skin, small waistlines, 6 packs, fun without work, sunshine, late nights partying, and promiscuity. Personally (as I said before), I’d be lying if I said that watching the show doesn’t add to my own feelings of inadequacy. I’m not even a healthy size, let alone LI standard. I don’t go on foreign holidays, party all night or get to drool over gorgeous men with ripped bodies all day by a pool.

I’ve never worn a bikini (and it’s not on my bucket list either), but I wish I could.

And I’m sad I won’t.

I’m 41 and feel like I’m not good enough already, those feelings are magnified while I ingest the Love Island story each year, but the obsession keeps me coming back.

Surely I should just switch off?

But even that’s difficult, creating a social exclusion for those that haven’t kept up to date when you have lunch at work, or browse social media. Gossiping about the show can’t be part of your day if you missed a single episode.

Work, home and socialising are suddenly full of stories from the current series. There’s no escaping it.

Other reality TV

Love island is the main topic of this post, but their place in the pile of lusty, desirable and SHOCKING tv is really only the tip of the iceberg.

The plethora of reality shows available has grown astronomically in the last 20 years. There are entire channels dedicated to the genre. So, wherever and whenever you need a fix you’ll be able to find something to give you another high. In fact, there’s enough out there to binge 24/7 and never have to watch a single episode twice. Every swig of the reality cocktail can be unique.

But these shows about ‘real’ life are feeding us information that might not always be helpful or healthy.

We love reality shows here, and using Netflix to feed us real-life stories in a dramatic way is one of our favourite late night pass times. The series ‘Making a Murderer’ started our unhealthy obsession – an awesome, ground-breaking production focused on the question of guilt for a man who had been wrongly accused (and incorrectly incarcerated for many years) once already. Had he committed murder this time? No one knows, but the show will change your mind over and over again.

That single series led us to many other recommendations on the app, one of which was harrowing for me, and I now regret watching it because I remember the story of a murder that was abominable. Horrific. Unimaginable. And the victims were a woman and her 2 very young daughters.

Their final moments are etched in my memory the way that the murderer explained the whole atrocious event to the police. I had to ask my partner to stop it and covered my ears. It was awful.

At this point I decided my reality TV requirements needed to be more particular and better researched.

The old days

I remember a time when the whole landscape felt more innocent, and the mental impact wasn’t visible…I’m not sure it was even there. What happened?

I was obsessed with Big Brother during its first 7 years and looking retrospectively, their housemate care was pretty abysmal, but no one really had any care or understanding of the toll that level of attention could have on a housemate both inside and outside the purpose-built Borehamwood complex.

Unbelievably, for the first few years you could spend the whole day watching housemates via webcams. That’s right – 24/7 footage, even if they were all sleeping, and often interruppted with white noise to avoid broadcasting anything legally problematic. All-day and all-night obsessions with reality TV aren’t particularly healthy, but we didn’t know that at the time. It was a fledgling style and seemed like the future of television. I barely did any office work in my late teens – I was too busy making sure my window in Internet Explorer was refreshing regularly, ensuring me the most up to date feed.

I was addicted to watching people do nothing but talk…but I couldn’t bear to miss a moment.

Maybe Love Island isn’t that different than the old days after all.

And what about the contestants? Look back at the character assassinations that happened based on petty arguments and snarky comments. If the same things happened today those ‘housemates’ would have been destroyed online – Twitter, Instagram and every crevice of social media would have wrung those argument filled cloths dry, destroying anyone involved in the conversation as they went.

I wonder how a Big Brother style show would manage now, especially with the added need to carefully cradle the well-being of participants AND viewers?

In conclusion

I’m not knocking this genre down, and I don’t mean to sound like I am. But the fact is it’s become sensationalist TV. As the years have passed, viewers are only interested in the most dramatic, upsetting, opinionated situations, and production companies can only create them in a melting pot of extremes. Extreme guests, extreme circumstances, extreme environments and extreme expectations.

But it didn’t get this terrible recently. Listen to the Podcast ‘Harsh Reality’ (available in the usual places) to hear a story of a trans woman and the fallout of her involvement in a sensationalist show called ‘There’s Something About Miriam’. It’s horrifying how she was treated, how contestants were provoked and how viewers were assumed to see the trans community as ‘fakers’, which, for the record, they aren’t.

In more recent years reality tv has created some extreme outcomes for those involved. Extreme, terrible, sad outcomes. But they were happening decades ago, and still people are getting damaged. Sometimes severely.

For me, I know I’ll never quit reality tv. I live an isolated little life, and I need to get the drama from somewhere. But I’ve learned a big lesson. A couple of big lessons, actually.

1. I need to research and filter what I watch, ensuring it’s unlikely to have an unhealthy effect on me. I should also think carefully about whether I want to watch a show that is promoting extreme situations for the participants and potentially effects their mental health negatively. Do I want my daughter to watch the same stuff?

2. If I’m going to indulge in Love Island and other programmes similar, I have to accept once and for all that I will never be as beautiful, blemish-free, shapely, or happy as the people on the show SEEM to be.

3. I have to accept that it’s ‘reality’, and that therefore makes it likely to be fabricated.

Fake reality.

The picture

My homage to the latest villa on Love Island. If you’ve seen the decor in the bedrooms, then you’ll know this would fit in nicely.

If you have no idea what I’m on about and haven’t succumbed to Love Islands temptations yet (you resilient person, you!) then this is nothing more than a bit of updated 80’s pop art.

Either way, I hope you like it.

And no, it’s not fake!

Published by stephc2021

Hi! I'm Steph, an amateur writer and illustrator specialising in Mental Health and being a self-confessed Spoonie. My website is home to any successful fiction I create, with stories that have won so far covering difficult subjects such as baby loss and mental health in grief as well as some funny and heart-warming tales when I get the inspiration. Every drawing and picture on my website was created by me. I spend a lot of time coming up with illustrations to accompany all of my posts and pages. I try to create original content across all of my channels, whether I'm writing about my own fiction or just generally musing on mental health or my own issues. I want to be part of the change because I believe the understanding of MH in the UK is getting better, but has a very long way to go. By being honest about my own struggles and symptoms I think others will relate and hopefully it will encourage them to talk to someone and get the help and support they need. Long term my goal is to help children too, help them understand their own mental health and how to help with the mental health of those around them. I live in the UK with my partner, daughter and dog, I swear frequently and I adore a well made, traditional, gooey, chocolatey, delicious brownie.

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