Television: where is the real in reality?

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By Lauren McDougall (@salvationel)

Big Brother. Keeping Up With the Kardashians. The Only Way Is Essex. Made In Chelsea. Geordie Shore. The Real Housewives of Insert Anywhere Here. If you say that you haven’t heard of at least one of these ‘reality’ shows, then quite frankly you’re lying to yourself. Everywhere we turn these days – whether it’s television, newspapers, radio, magazines or the Internet – media outlets are plastered with features on reality stars that many of us don’t know the first thing about.

So what exactly is the appeal of reality television? Every other night swarms of people gather in front of their televisions watching complete strangers living out their ‘everyday lives’ in front of the camera. We see them laughing, crying, fighting and everything in between. Psychology Professor Susan Whitbourne stated that, “… reality TV viewers may just like backstage views of many situations in life, which in fact reality shows often portray.” But is it really that transparent? That people are essentially just nosy?

I believe it goes beyond simply getting a backstage seat into the drama of other people’s lives because, let’s face it, there’s no shortage of regular updates about the lives of celebrities at any given time. When we watch these kind of things unfold on television however, there’s something unsettlingly addictive about watching the drama play out when we’re not required to become directly involved. We see people screaming scathing insults at each other, individuals cheating on their significant others, girls finding out they’ve accidentally fallen pregnant and violent encounters between people who saw no other solution to their differences than sheer brutality – and we don’t even flinch. In many respects we’ve become desensitized to the experiences of those on the screen and the emotions, no matter how real, that they’re experiencing. The bigger the drama, the more we glue ourselves to the screen and the less we seem to care about any sort of resolution to the situations that arise – if anything, it’s like we’re hoping things will get worse which isn’t healthy.

All entertainment has escapist characteristics, but how is this form affecting us as a society? Many of us are spending more time watching the good and bad realities of others play out on television, all the while missing out on living our own lives. We sit back and observe life happening for other people, but shouldn’t we be more concerned with making our own lives count for something? Maybe this is just me, but I thought living was about going out and making our own mistakes and our own memories so that when it’s all over one day at least we’ll be able to look back and say, “I experienced it all”. Maybe this discussion shouldn’t be so serious, but I believe that whilst reality television may allow us to escape our own lives for a little while, surely the longer we spend surrounding ourselves with these impersonal realities, the more we lose touch with our own.d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’)[0].appendChild(s);