I love reality TV. I watch it a lot. I don’t know why exactly. I despise a lot of what I see there. Maybe it’s because I find human behaviour fascinating? Maybe I enjoy watching people who are very far away from myself? Maybe it makes me feel better about my own reality? Who knows. Whatever it is there is no denying I have spent years of my life watching other people live theirs. That doesn’t mean I’m not ashamed of my love for it. I am. It’s a bit like having another addiction; I get sick of myself, I feel dirty and ashamed, say I’m never doing it again and as my hand flickers over the UNSUBSCRIBE button on Hayu.com I just can’t bring myself to end it. I go crawling back like an emotional Dementor feeding off other peoples bad life choices. At least I know I am not alone and some go a lot further than me. The Instafamous literally make a living based on social media popularity, consumerism rules in 2019. Who cares that the planet is dying when you can get free shit for pouting into your phone? Reality TV has become a genuine oxymoron. How real can this reality really be? Some of these programmes are the launch pad for the celebrity lifestyle and social media simply prolongs it. But the reality to this simulated reality no longer has a happy ending.
Competition Programmes like Project Runway, The Great British Bake Off and RuPaul’s Drag Race seem harmless enough. They have their fair share of drama but are also educational bringing an inspirational message encouraging all of us to follow our dreams and be ourselves. Drop down a notch and you enter documentary style reality that began with shows like Super Nanny or It’s Me or The Dog and have modernised into Catfish, 16 & Pregnant or Botched. This slightly dramatised reality at least shows a central issue and generally a fixable problem by the token celebrity expert. Down one more rung of the reality ladder and you’re into the really repulsive stuff. Rich people lay lavish lifestyles open on a silver plated platter putting themselves through unthinkable tasks for the benefit of the viewer and their own egos of course. These include the original reality show The Simple Life, I’m a Celebrity, THAT family starting with a K and The Many Real Housewives of Bravo TV. Jostling about in the bottom of the barrel are shows like Love Island, Ex On The Beach and Big Brother where Narcissus is truly alive and kicking. But whether you’re savvy enough to build an empire from your exposure or instantly hated and trolled it seems for the reality TV star the only way is down.
Ironically in Mental Health Awareness Week reality hit the headlines once again when Jeremy Kyle was taken off air following the suicide of one of his guests. Maybe Steve Dymond was already on the verge? Maybe the results of the lie detector were untrue? Maybe the way he was spoken to by the audience and charm-less host made him want to die? Whatever it was his reality is over. Jeremy Kyle hit our screens in 2005 quickly becoming ITV’s most popular daytime show grossing over a million viewers daily. I remember when Jerry Springer first came on the telly and we all revelled in the shocking nature of the seemingly alien content. It was around this time that Rikki Lake grew in popularity among teenage audiences across the globe. In the U.K we had stuff like Trisha and Killroy but Jeremy Kyle brought about a new era in working-class shaming. I always saw it as the lesser Brit version of those American style talk shows; the stories were less entertaining, the guests were no way near TV ready but the thing that bothered me most was the way Jeremy bullied his guests. Jerry Springer at least came across as a kind of relaxed Uncle that had somehow lost control, watching from the back while security cleared up the blood, ending each episode with a quiet ‘Final Thought’ urging us all to take care of each other. Jeremy Kyle hurled abuse at his guests to such a level that I wanted to walk out for them. The longer the show ran the more embarrassingly horrendous it became and as more and more of the show was filmed in the studios corridor, the louder Kyle’s voice echoed through the microphone, his bad karma quota stacked up. It was car crash TV at it’s worst and I’m glad it’s been cancelled. Shows like Jeremy Kyle give reality a bad name.
But the question on everyone’s lips this week is….huh? Jeremy Kyle gets cancelled after one of it’s guests committed suicide whereas Love Island has recently amassed a death toll of two and peacefully continues shooting it’s umpteenth series. Knock, knock Mr ITV? Who’s there? ‘The Government’, if you can even call Westminster that these days, has announced it will be launching an enquiry into whether or not enough after-care and support is available to the participants of these shows. People claim that this is the problem. Maybe if the ‘right’ level of support were available we would not have a suicide epidemic on our hands? I beg to differ.
What came first the chicken or the egg? The slave or the slave trader? The participants or the audience? In a world where judgement is only skin deep is it really a surprise that reality contestants simply cannot live with themselves? I mean let’s face it we already watch people taking a shit, celebrating huge life events, going through painful divorce, desertion and the rest, how long until we return to the Thunderdome? Is The Hunger Games really so far away from this reality? Big Brother started as an experiment and the first series genuinely was. I remember it, well. These very normal people sat in this strange house wondering if anyone was even watching them. Fast forward ten years and only ‘influencers’ with a certain amount of ‘followers’ are even invited to audition. Human behaviour is so peculiarly different when we know other people are watching us; is anybody themselves anymore? Is it even possible for young people growing up today to form any kind of uninhibited behaviour when they know that their every move could be watched by millions in a click? It’s not what you know but who knows you and someones making money. Of course they’re not going to pull the plug on Love Island, it’s modern day sex trafficking with consent! Are you mad? They’ll never cancel it. We have to get there first. The consumer holds the key to capitalism. We just have to want to have had enough.
Humanity is missing something. Our senses are well and truly overloaded. Everywhere we look we are flooded with images of someone else’s version of perfection and we buy into it because everybody’s doing it. We live in a society obsessed with how we look, what we own and how much wealth we can accumulate. That is how the majority of us judge success. If you don’t have x, y and z by a certain time you are a failure. If you don’t match up to your peers standards of living you get a sympathetic – you’ll get there – which incidentally immediately diminishes whatever you have already done. It is these attitudes that are causing people to feel unworthy, not their participation in a reality programme. I’m not saying there is no blame there but it’s not the root of the issue by a long shot. The birth of social media may well have made it easier for us to connect with people on the other side of the planet but it’s also made us obsess over what we lack and with what image we portray to gain more success, more influence and ultimately more love. Modern business models are designed to constantly increase their gross profit and how do they do that? Sales. How do you sell anything? By convincing your potential customer that they need what you are selling. And how? By convincing them that what they already have is not good enough.
We have been taught to constantly compete with one another. Our natural human instinct to survive has been manipulated and magnified to throw focus onto every minuscule aspect of our lives. It’s no wonder we are all engulfed in a sea of self doubt. We are taught from an early age to win, to achieve, to be good enough. We are urged by society to give in to our utmost desires and grasp any and every opportunity that comes our way in order to be the BEST. This has taken progress to a devastating extreme leaving our accomplishments ordinary and satisfaction temporary. We have surpassed our own expectations as a species and have no where left to go except self annihilation. What if? Who next? Where now? This is proving fatal. We are no longer satisfied just having a moment. We post our spiritual practices, selfies of our children, our lunch, people modify their bodies in order to look better in a picture online hoping to gain that vital shot of dopamine when we see the heart turn red. Whatever happened to telling a story? Remembering an experience? Looking through a photo album? Progress has made us lazy and in order to dig ourselves out of this mirrored hole we must evolve spiritually. People don’t need whiter teeth, bigger boobs and longer eyelashes. They need compassion, understanding and tolerance. We crave Ferrari’s, Penthouse apartments and Private Jets. When actually we are yearning for acceptance, connection and truth. How long is it until we all recognise that this void can never be filled with things or followers? The more polished you are online the more insecure you are likely to be when your imperfections are finally on display. As any addict will tell you a thousand is too many and one is never enough.
We don’t need to upgrade our lives we need to search for our souls. Young people are dying. They are trapped between the fairy tale fantasy of social media projections and the looking glass screen of their phones. They are so brainwashed into productivity they think they’re too late to improve by the time they reach 26. Fuck. Talk about sad. Mike Thalasittis, Steve Dymond and Sophie Gradon are a mere few who have lost their lives to this madness. I haven’t even gone into the teenagers and adults who have killed themselves over rape culture, the bullying rhetoric of a President and the rise of the far right all exacerbated by social media. It’s a catastrophe of mankind. We are killing ourselves with our own egos and instead of calling for more regulation we should all just sit the fuck down, have a cup of tea and talk to each other like people. Not through our phones, not through our followers but face to face, heart to heart, human to human. The only way to save our world is to pay attention to it. At the end of the day what sort of reality do you want to live in?
Janna writes, sings and acts. For more information please visit www.jannafox.com