The pandemic of hyper-Reality TV

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When I hear the imperative ‘Get back to reality’, what most intrigues me is who I picture saying it.

I visualize a practical, pragmatic type — firmly grounded in the ways things are. Perhaps even more interesting is who you don’t picture saying it. Maybe your first suggestion is dreamers; but what about reality TV stars? Those who are so disillusioned with fame that they project their lives onto our TV screens to attempt to achieve it.

The show Married at First Sight (MAFSs for us cult fans) is one of the many shows to project contestants supposed ‘realities’ onto our screens.

We need to consider the extent to which Reality TV producers are to blame for facilitating and condoning aggression in the name of entertainment

Yet, the show recently set a new example by removing contestant, Nikita Jasmine, after she displayed aggressive behaviour. Yet, we need to consider the extent to which Reality TV producers are to blame for facilitating and condoning aggression in the name of entertainment. Furthermore, does such contribute to an endemic of mental health issues related to Reality TV.

The UK version of Married at First Sight does what it says on the tin. In the latest series contestant Nikita Jasmine, 26, married Ant Poole, 28, quite literally at first sight.

However, right from the start, Jasmine displayed signs of aggression, including violently throwing a cup at Poole during an argument. Jasmine’s aggression further escalated during the show’s weekly dinner party where she verbally berated fellow contestant, Jordan Mundell, after he told her to “speak English”. A spokesperson for E4 later claimed that the situation escalated off-camera where Jasmine displayed a level of aggression that breached their code of conduct, leading to her removal from the show.

There are many ways to feel about the show’s decision to remove Jasmine. Some involve a certain level of cynicism. Did E4 make the decision to save their own backs?

There were thousands of Ofcom complaints regarding Faye Winter’s aggressive behaviour in this year’s series of Love Island, perhaps MAFS UK was ensuring they didn’t succumb to the same backlash. Yet, ironically, it is perhaps the very nature of such Reality TV shows themselves — creating the perfect storm for such aggression.

The fact that contestants are forced into situations where they don’t trust who’s being real is inevitably going to trigger the trust issues of disillusioned individuals like Jasmine. This is seen in Love Island, where they presented Winter’s with, and filmed her reaction to, a clip of her partner Teddy Soares telling another girl he’s sexually attracted to her.

Reality TV is manufactured, the manipulation of its subjects inevitably results in aggression, this has been seen throughout shows such as Big Brother, and now Love Island and MAFS.

Does this excuse such behaviour? Absolutely not.

Jasmine and Winters’ being verbally abusive towards their fellow contestants, made for cringe-worthy and uncomfortable viewing. Yet, it’s surely a dangerous game to punish troubled individuals as opposed to big-time Reality TV franchises for repeatedly putting characters into triggering situations only to remove or scald them. So, is it a good thing that MAFS removed Jasmine? Absolutely yes!

Placing ‘reality’ on TV inevitably created a warped reality

Removing Jasmine was a clear step in the right direction, indicating that shows like MAFS are starting to recognise their social responsibility and the dangers of condoning aggressive behaviour in front of a large and impressionable audience. However, surely the trend of placing contestants in provocative situations only to remove them cannot have longevity.

We must start seeing that the problem is bigger than the penalization of aggressive behaviour and realise that the problem lies with Reality TV itself. Placing ‘reality’ on a TV inevitably involves a level of scripting, editing and dramatization that creates a warped reality. Contestants are plunged into a world where people play up to cameras, producers influence decision-making and editing gives them distorted perceptions of self.

Reality TV is still a relatively new phenomenon, yet the consequences of distorting reality are beginning to surface through headlines detailing contestants’ mental health issues and, tragically, suicides. Reality TV directly affects both its subjects, but it also indirectly affects viewers who mistake the happenings and interactions they witness on TV as real.

Therefore, we are all stuck in the unknown terrain of Reality TV. How do we solve this? Perhaps it’s about time to start recognising Reality TV isn’t real. Perhaps Reality TV needs to be rebranded as hyperreality TV. Hyperreality is defined as an inability to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality, something which is becoming commonplace on our TV screens. Clearly, murky waters need to be trodden through in order for both contestants and viewers to ‘get back to reality’.

Image: leunix via Creative Commons.

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