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Why Do We Enjoy Reality TV?

4 minutes to read

Whether you’re an engineer, a CEO of a million-dollar business, a tradesman or someone who is a slave of the hospitality machine, we’re all attracted to reality TV. Maybe because life is so difficult and for one second, we want to feel as stupid as the people we are perceived to be watching. We had the classics: Survivor, Big Brother and American/Australia; then, producers got the idea that throwing any old thing on a script and giving it to people who were paid to ruin their lives was a good idea. Since Y2K they have aired a staggering 300 reality TV shows born like a face hugger in Alien, only the shows permanently scar our brains, rather than remove them – personally I’m rooting for the latter.

Ahh, much better. Source.

Who could forget sitting on the lounge with Mum and Dad cheering on the person you didn’t know from a bar of soap? We were watching an adventure unfold right before our eyes, like “standing up for the longest”, “weird coconut races” and most importantly, drama; and that’s just Survivor. There was also watching obese people experience pain, Guy Sebastian robbing Shannon Noll of the world’s most coveted title, and Seal pretending to be the reincarnation of Ghandi. As a 6 or 15-year-old, it’s difficult to comprehend why we’re voluntarily losing brain cells, and even when we hit our 20’s we still question why these things exist.

Reality TV
I’m lost for words.

Well, Turkish psychologist Lemi Baruh suggests that:

“[The] appeal of reality shows is the chance they provide for us to compare ourselves with other people involved in situations that we may wish we could be in, or are glad we’re not.”

He also suggests that humanistic tendencies to voyeurism are a contributing factor to the popularity of reality television. He conducted a study to see whether people:

A. Enjoyed peeking into the private lives,

B. Wanted to see a side of a person they wouldn’t usually and,

C. Watched to see what the contestants were hiding.

They were told to agree or disagree with these statements on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). The average was 10 across all 3 items, with the highest score for item 2. Anything above 6 on that item, and above 4 or 5 on the other two suggests you are within the higher range of scores for television voyeurism.

They were also tested on “trait voyeurism”, where there would be responses to hypothetical situations e.g. finding a nude photo of someone and either looking at it closely or getting rid of it. The study was not conclusive, however it really brought to light that certain people have a tendency for voyeurism, even if it’s for a bit of entertainment pleasure.

Could it be as simple as enjoying the split second of feeling less intelligent than when we walked into the situation? Reality TV hasn’t gotten any better; in fact I’d say that reality TV in 2017 is at its most cringe-worthy stage in Australian history. There’s titles such as Married at First Sight and Seven Year Switch that leave us hoping there’s be an inch of realness about the fact that contestants clearly hate each other and this never was a “thing”.

Somehow Paleo Pete and Manu are still dragging the MKR chain along; it’s only claimed three villages worth of contestants’ integrity, and made us despise Pete Evans even more after he suggested bone broth was a good idea for babies. But the pièce de résistance for me, the peak of entertainment, is The Bachelorette featuring 26 very discontent, barely differentiated males with three brown men thrown in like a below average goody bag at a kid’s party.

Whether you’re a fan of reality TV or not, we can all agree on something: it’s sensationalist, it’s bullsh*t, it’s unreality TV.

And here’s 1 minute and 52 seconds worth of cringe to keep you away from those voyeuristic tendencies: