I write this post now with a confession to make: I enjoy reality TV. Made in Chelsea is quite often the only thing that gets me through Monday. I know the names of nearly everyone in The Only Way is Essex (as well as their entire dating history). I spend the weeks before Big Brother googling to see which big names (okay, maybe not that big) are going in. I enjoy watching reality TV, and I’ll be damned if anyone is going to shame me for it.
Reality TV has undoubtedly had a boom in recent years. The Kardashians are arguably the most famous family in the world right now due to the success of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, there are ‘Real Housewives’ for pretty much every area of the world, and magazines are sold daily with images from the likes of Charlotte Crosby, Stephanie Pratt and Joey Essex. However, people still seem to determinedly bash reality TV. They criticise the shows for making celebrities out of ‘talentless nobodies’, label viewers as unintelligent for ‘wasting’ time watching such shows, and make an overexaggerated point about how little they care about the lives shown (ironically, they often do this via comments on the social media of said shows, suggesting they might care a little). Of course, in this world, people are entitled to their own opinions and preferences. I don’t tend to watch Match of the Day, but I know thousands do. I don’t watch Eastenders, but I accept it’s one of the most popular soaps in the UK. The difference is that, while I don’t share those preferences, I also don’t think I’m superior or that viewers should be belittled. Yet, when it comes to reality TV, people seem to think it’s perfectly acceptable to criticise the likes of Geordie Shore and anyone who dares to like it. As a self-confessed reality fan, I find the whole thing particularly dull (not to mention incredibly arrogant) and, in the face of adversity, it’s time for viewers to stand up and shout their love of reality TV from the rooftops.
“Put a dunce hat on my head if needs be, but I don’t believe watching a reality TV show has any effect on your intelligence”.
One of the biggest problems which reality TV is this obsession with intellect, as if an episode of TOWIE might suddenly push your knowledge of the five times table out of your head. “I could feel my brain cells dying” the critics say, after watching a clip of a show they proclaim to hate so much for apparently the sole purpose of having a moan afterwards. Well, put a dunce hat on my head if needs be, but I don’t believe watching a reality TV show has an effect on your intelligence any more than watching The Great British Bake-Off makes me the next Mary Berry. I have a degree and am still partial to a bit of The Hills – heck, even when I was at university I watched reality TV, and unbelievably it didn’t prevent me from passing any of my exams. Instead of being a reflection of the viewers’ intelligence levels, it seems more likely to me that reality TV is a form of entertainment, much like every TV show ever created. And whether you’re a genius scientist or you failed every single one of your GCSEs, surely the desire to be entertained is something we all hold in common?
The other common argument against reality TV is that it’s trashy and fake. People question why we would want to see some fake-tanned Essex citizens throwing drinks over each other in clubs or posh Londonners going on their tenth holiday of the series to Cannes where they’ll undoubtedly hook up with each other and get annoyed. My answer to this is the escapism: these shows give you a window into a life you would otherwise never experience. Although I would never want the level of drama in my life that you see in these shows, it is entertaining to be a voyeur to the dramatic lives of someone else while you’re sat in your pyjamas on a Sunday night. I dream about being a Made in Chelsea cast member (they never work yet are rich, and literally seem to do nothing but get their hair blow-dried and have daytime cocktails. It’s the best possible life situation), but until that happens, I can settle for watching their shenanigans and fuming over who Alex Mytton has slept with this time. And people do genuinely become involved in the lives they see played out on screen. Look at the reaction to Binky Felstead’s pregnancy: people rush to wish her congratulations and pass the message onto their friends. We watch the shows and scream at our favourites to get with certain cast members, or not make poor decisions (these mainly boil down to cheating on their significant others). In the same way you would in a riveting TV drama, you invest your time and emotion into these people: the only difference is they’re real, and you can stalk their Instagram page afterwards to find out more.
“Maybe it’s time to lay off the trashy TV lovers and embrace reality TV as a staple of modern viewing”.
And, of course, there is always the argument about these shows being fake. And if it is fake: so what? We don’t watch these shows for their accurate reflection of life. We know not everyone in Essex is embroiled in some sort of love triangle each week and not everyone in Newcastle lives in a big house getting drunk all the time. If anything, the ‘staged’ aspect of the shows only makes it better – after all, who doesn’t want the drama to be at its most intense? That’s what makes these shows more entertaining than most soap operas, and that’s why they remain so popular.
So, maybe it’s time to lay off the trashy TV lovers and embrace reality TV as a staple of modern viewing. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it – but you also don’t have to comment on it. Yes, there may be quite a difference between watching Celebs Go Dating and watching University Challenge , and yes, the shows can be tacky, dramatic and cringe-worthy. But they’re also incredibly entertaining and addictive. In this modern world, where there’s a lot to debate, comment upon and rise up against, isn’t it time we stop criticising each other’s TV tastes and just watch what the hell we want?