The Reality of our Obsession with Reality TV

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We’re all familiar with reality television; and whether a small guilty pleasure or not, reality TV has capitalised widely off our need to peek into other people’s lives and associate ourselves with others. Casey Farr investigates more.

Edited Natalie Whitmore

Testament to our fascination with people watching, the reality television industry has grown by an estimated $119,900 billion in the last 30 years, according to the Huffington Post. The most cited reason for our interest in reality TV is that it is used to reinforce our identities, which explains why 16-15 year olds have the highest consumption of daily reality programmes.

The problem is that the “reality” depicted in these heavily scripted and exaggerated shows is so far removed from the actuality of our lives that it gives this young and naive audience false expectations and unhealthy ideals. body-dysmorphic-disorder-bdd-300x264Some studies have been as far as to suggest that reality television is responsible for the rise in cases of body dysmorphia leading to eating disorders and/or cosmetic procedures. It’s not hard to believe that these augmented versions of reality have added to the pressure on young people to
conform to unattainable standards, be that of beauty of morality.

Unfortunately this preoccupation with voyeurism seems to be pervading into the film industry.  Last year heralded the release of the biopics of two of the most adored and yet most destructive icons of the modern age: Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain. There are, of course, glaring similarities between the two tales: they were both phenomenally talented, uncomfortable with fame, plagued by addiction, and eventually suffered untimely deaths at the tender age of 27. This familiar pattern is played out time and time again in celebrity biopics; Jim Morrison, Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jonny Cash are all prime examples.

These Hollywood representations tend to romanticise drug dependencies and glamourise the dependants, creating a misleading narrative that is far too sensationalised to be accurate. The worst thing is we take pleasure in viewing these heart-wrenching scenes of destruction; they are released for our entertainment. And the result? Well, if you accept behavioural psychology theories, then it is damaging cultural standards and fuelling a new generation of drug addicts. But that’s only a small part of a much bigger problem, which is privacy.

As aforementioned it is widely documented that both Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse were uncomfortable with their widespread fame and the concept of celebrity. They considered themselves solely musicians and disliked being in the spotlight when they weren’t performing. So it’s difficult to imagine either of them consenting to their personal photographs or home footage being released to the masses, but for some reason these are the kinds of in-depth details we crave.

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This year’s cinematic offerings are set apart from their predecessors by their intrusion into the subject’s lives. Whereas previous biopics have been far more dramatic and sensationalised in their representation of a character, this time there is an awkward intimacy in the depictions. To me, above all other misgivings, this is a clear sign that our interest in the private lives’ of others, be that celebrities or reality stars, is becoming perverse and should not continue to be fed.

The impact of this obsession with people-watching is clearly detrimental to future generation’s understanding of privacy. The lines between private and professional lives of the ‘famous’ are blurred beyond distinction, and in a time where our own privacy is under threat, perhaps we should be more concerned about preserving traditional values of discretion.