According to Wikipedia, “Reality television is a genre of television programming that documents purportedly unscripted real-life situations, often starring unknown individuals rather than professional actors.” We must have seen our peers, families, and sometimes ourselves too, getting a little addicted to reality TV shows, even if it was for a brief period.
(A glimpse from TVF’s ‘Rowdies-9 Sab Q-tiyapa hai!’)
We might look at someone in a judgmental manner and wonder why people love watching contestants who constantly fight or abuse each other and perceive that as ‘entertainment.’ Here’s why:
We Love Drama: Even the most intellectual person enjoys drama in real life or reel life. The exaggeration of situations depicted in reality shows, sensationalizing shocking revelations, the contestants who provide the viewers with their ‘stories’ excite us so that we end up getting hooked, thereby leading to high viewership of such shows. One of the Bigg Boss show’s segments is called ‘Weekend Ka Vaar’ where the host of the show bashes and appreciates the contestants to give them an idea about their progress throughout the show during the weekend implies that we derive entertainment from seeing someone getting humiliated.
Escapism: Not watching mind-boggling or offbeat content often is due to escapism. Watching the mindless and sometimes even irrelevant drama between two people on screen helps us escape reality. The socio-political scenario, personal or career-related issues: basically adulting makes you so exhausted that you don’t feel like watching content that would question your current scenario or make you think. That’s when reality shows come to our rescue.
(Source: More Than Thursdays)
Sense of Identity: Shows like ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ give us a peek into the family’s rich and luxurious lives, and we crave the luxurious life they have. Viewers have divided opinions of contestants, which gives us a sense of identity. We want to imitate the people we love and dislike, the ones whose values don’t align with ours, to feel better about ourselves. The contestants who live ordinary lives become famous after the show gives them the hope that maybe they can achieve their goals.
Personality Differences: Reiss had proposed a theory of ‘16 basic desires’, which is based on the theory of motivation. It implies that individuals pay attention to things that satiate their main motives and ignore those that don’t. The emphasis, importance, and priority towards each motive will vary from individual to individual. For instance, people who crave romance in their lives might watch shows which revolve around the same theme. The satisfaction of watching romantic shows will be temporary, and one will feel the need to indulge again to reclaim or achieve the pleasure again.
Empathy: The cultural and geographical background of a contestant also plays a crucial role in ensuring that the audience remains emotionally invested. An excellent example of this is when an Indian actor Shilpa Shetty was a contestant in Celebrity Big Brother 5, faced racist remarks from other contestants that led to discussions. The audience empathized with her.
(Source: The Sun)
(Shilpa Shetty in Celebrity Big Brother 2007)
So what is the impact of these reality shows?
The popularity received from reality shows has given at least some contestants a chance to revive their careers; they have been a part of several creative projects. Shehnaaz Gill from the Bigg Boss 13 fame is one such example who is a part of several music videos and is also getting film offers.
(Source: Shehnaaz Gill’s Instagram)
While tables have turned for some contestants workwise, it is also important to throw light on the dark side of reality TV shows. Zara Holland, one of the former contestants of Love Island 2016, talked about her battle with depression after the show and how she had become obsessed with the Internet to know what people thought of her. Moreover, Zara who held the title of Miss Great Britain was de-crowned because she had sexual intercourse with a contestant of the show.
(Source: Zara Holland’s Instagram)
People have polar opposite views on the contestant due to the editing of such shows., It is done strategically to increase viewership and manipulate people to think of these contestants as having ‘ black and white ‘ personalities. The format of these shows compels the contestants to give the viewers access to their private lives, their stories, dark secrets, relationships, etc. And while these occurrences in the controlled environment of CCTV surveillance and zero or no access to the outside world may not let them know the consequences of their actions, the reactions or trolls are amplified that leaves a negative impact on these contestants. Years may pass, but the audience doesn’t seem to let go; brutal hashtags on Twitter about the contestant and the various adverse judgment, unfortunately, is likely to stay with them, and dealing with the other side of the fame is inescapable.
On the other hand, the collaboration of these reality TV shows with various brands and strategic ways to publicize them has also helped people know more about the market. Ankita Bansal, one of the contestants of Indian Matchmaking, received a lot of appreciation for her feminist and modern views on marriage. She is one of the co-founders of the denim brand ‘THERE!’ who witnessed an increase in international sales post the show’s release.
(Ankita Bansal in Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking)
I have personally noticed that most people have polar opposite views on reality shows: they either love it or hate it. Another question arises regarding the authenticity of these shows and leads to more questions like: Are the contestants selling us their ‘stories’ which are highly curated by exaggerating?
Should we even blame the contestants who are a part of these shows?
The answer to this is a bit tricky considering how things have changed for the best for some contestants; the creative industry is so fickle that people do what it takes to sustain their foothold in the industry.
Should we find new alternatives to relax and chill instead of relying on reality TV?
Can the demand for showcasing good content from the audience change the narrative?
It’s undoubtedly time to think and introspect. Let me know what your views are on reality shows in the comments section!
Author: Madhura Bilimogga Content Writer, Limelighting Life Collective
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Schreiber, A. (n.d.). Ankita Bansal, the Breakout Star of 'Indian Matchmaking,' Is Building a Denim Empire. Vogue. https://www.vogue.com/article/indian-matchmaking-ankita-bansal-gayatri-bansal-there-denim.
Reiss, S., & Wiltz, J. (2004). Why people watch reality TV. Media psychology, 6(4), 363-378.
Sabharwal, M. (2021, February 2). When Shilpa Shetty broke into tears on Big Brother after Jade Goody's entry, said she feels 'terrible.’ Entertainment News by Zoom TV. https://www.zoomtventertainment.com/celebrity/article/when-shilpa-shetty-broke-into-tears-on-celebrity-big-brother-after-jade-goodys-entry-said-she-feels-terrible-watch-video/714840