Reality TV & ‘Pop Culture Shock’

Picture this: it’s a Saturday night in and you’re cosying up on your sofa after a hectic week with a pack of minstrels and The X Factor on your TV. It’s a scenario that’s all too familiar for the millions of people that tune into the show every weekend. Though in recent years, those viewings haven’t come easy. With plummeting ratings and constant allegations that the show is ‘fixed’ it brings into question, how far is reality TV, ‘real’?

Reality TV has become one of the most viewed genres of television programme in the last decade, but why? This may be partially due to the pure entertainment factor, because let’s face it, watching a group of ‘celebrities’ get locked in a chamber with live snakes on ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get me out of here!’ is pretty amusing. Alongside this, reality TV can be the perfect way to switch off from the daily stresses of life, with no real necessity to think about or digest what you’re viewing. Whilst this positively aids many viewers’ down time, it can actually have dangerous social consequences.

Passively consuming reality TV can lure us into a falsified reality. Is what we are viewing really what life is like? From Geordie Shore to Made in Chelsea, this form of reality documentary has become increasingly popular, expanding to many different geological locations across the world. The bottom line is, a cast carefully selected by a panel of producers and filmed in selected scenarios can hardly be considered reality. This is not to say the entirety of reality TV is fake but at the same time, it can never be truly real.

With such a large number of the population tuning into these reality shows, it’s questionable whether this is genuinely a form of light entertainment or whether audiences are unknowingly believing that what they are seeing is real. Viewers were left outraged by The

X Factor when contestant Honey G remained on the show whilst singer Saara Aalto was booted off with many viewers branding the show a ‘fix’. The show has received further fix allegations after it was revealed that group ‘Four of Diamonds’ were put together in a special workshop created by Sony as reported by The Daily Star. What is questionable is why these viewers are still tuning in every week even after they have branded the show a fix. The answer is simple, it’s addictively entertaining. These fix allegations at least suggest that audiences are sceptical of how real ‘reality’ TV is and it is this scepticism that is needed in order for reality TV to remain harmless entertainment.

Reality TV is carefully structured yet branded as real because of the way it is filmed. What is concerning is that many X Factor viewers were outraged at the thought of the show as being ‘fixed’ when really, most television is obviously constructed to provide entertainment. Does the fact that many of us didn’t realise this mean we are more gullible than we think? The truth of the matter is, to be able to entertain, reality TV needs to be built in a way to do so, and once these foundations are successful the same recipe is used time and time again. This works even for audience members who realise the show isn’t really ‘real’, because ultimately it still serves its purpose; to entertain.

The stars of Geordie Shore probably do enjoy getting drunk, going on a night out and letting loose on a weekend, but it is hard to believe that they would be quite so wild and overdramatic if they weren’t being filmed… and getting paid for it. The basis of reality TV is money, especially with reality TV stars now gaining a huge ‘celebrity’ status, the truth of the matter is, these stars are getting paid a lot of money to be entertaining. This money incentive undoubtedly has an impact on how they portray themselves and what they decide to do in their lives, because nobody would watch the stars of Made in Chelsea going for their weekly shop at Tesco, however millions of people are more than happy to tune into them arguing over the freshest cheating rumour of the week.

Though what  does this mean for viewers? The exaggerated nightlife on Geordie Shore can leave many viewers with the illusion that drinking an entire bottle of Vodka and ending your night laying in the bottom of a gutter is the social norm for young people and British drinking culture. This could create concerning consequences if viewers start recreating the behaviour they have seen on TV. Student Carrie Everest froze to death after drinking five pints containing 20 shots of vodka on a night out, as reported by the Sun, proving these frightening beliefs can have a devastating effect on society and that there are serious deep-rooted issues in the way we consume media.

When it comes down to it, it’s pretty safe to say that reality TV can never really be considered ‘real’, and it is this realisation that needs to come to light to avoid damaging effects on society. In our conscious minds most audience members recognise reality TV is not reality, though subconscious messages we receive can lead us to be gullible and naive.

Whilst this for the most part is harmless, as an audience we need to change our viewing approaches from susceptible to sceptical. Once we realise what we are viewing isn’t reality, and we shouldn’t base our lives and actions on what the media shows us, the relationship between viewer and reality TV can be harmonious.


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January 2022
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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