Television has one of the largest outreaches across all artistic platforms. Few houses are without a television set, and many homes have several – not solely in the living room, but in kitchens and bedrooms also. Some even have a TV in the bathroom. For many, therefore, their main exposure to art comes via their beloved 32” flat screen (keeping it modest, please note…).
When browsing through TV listings – beyond the usual news, panel programs and talk shows – I’m constantly astounded by the amount of ‘reality’ shows on offer. I’m not talking about the talent contests that grace our screens on Saturday nights – at least in those instances there is substance. Instead, I’m talking about the ‘fly-on-the-wall’ series’. Made in Chelsea on Mondays. Geordie Shore on Tuesdays. The Only Way is Essex on Wednesdays and Sundays. And that’s just the start!
The premise of these shows is simple: a ‘discreet’ camera crew follows the (formerly unknown) cast members around, running everyday errands and documenting their day-to-day lives. Often, the stars of such shows live a life somewhat distanced from that of the target audience – either exploiting this distancing, or emphasising the desire of the audience to live a similar lifestyle. This brings into question the labelling of these as reality shows.
Take Made in Chelsea, for example. In the opening sequence of its premier, original cast member Caggie Dunlop – now popular YouTube star, singer and lifestyle blogger – introduced the show as full of “royals, aristocrats and playboys”; a far cry from mine or your reality. Hugo Taylor is a close friend of Princess Eugene, while Oliver Proudlock graduated Eton in the same year as Prince Harry. Furthermore, preceding each episode is a disclaimer of “scenes constructed for your entertainment”, suggesting an artificial and scripted notion of reality. Not that I’m adverse to a MiC binge – its enjoyable, gripping and easy viewing when you just want to chill out after a long day. However, there is a worry that such shows create unrealistic expectations within young people.
While Made in Chelsea is at least upfront about the privileged lives of its stars, it is shows like Geordie Shore that increase this worry. Notorious for their wild parties, drunken scandals and sexual exploits, the cast live together in one great house, their sole job to perform for the cameras. Subsequently, Charlotte Crosby went on to win Celebrity Big Brother in 2013, and Vicky Pattison won the fifteenth series of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here and, this year, became a regular Loose Women panellist. Crosby starred in CBB alongside model Sophie Anderton and football manager Ron Atkinson, while Pattison co-hosts Loose Women alongside established journalist Jane Moore and actress Nadia Sawalha.
Putting reality stars out there alongside other famous faces who have worked exhaustively for their fame seems perplexing, and dismissive of their past work. Especially in the instance of Loose Women – where viewers expect an in-depth discussion of world events by well travelled, experienced and educated panellists – enabling the voice of someone whose fame is founded in drunken, sexual antics sends a derogatory message to young people.
Yes – encourage young people to aspire for better and work for their dreams; you can do it! But, there is a danger that blending the worlds of reality TV and celebrity will deter children from working for their future and, instead, rely on their own notoriety.
I’m not condemning reality TV – we’re all guilty of indulging. In fact, the main reason that television rose to its current prominence is a result of the eyes of the world wanting to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in ’52. But, we need to be cautious of how we regard what we watch, and take the time to distinguish between what is celebrity – i.e. those who have worked for their stardom – and those who’s luck precedes them.