There’s no reality in reality TV

Does television steer more of your life than you’d care to admit?

There’s no reality in reality TV

For much of the Western world, television might easily consume three to four hours per day for many adults. Many people will spend more time with their TV friends and family than they do with their actual friends and family. Add streaming to these numbers where people are literally watching TV or movies in every available moment, on trains, buses, walking down busy city streets (yes, people walk down a street with traffic and crowds of people while watching shows on their phone), at sporting events, on holidays, in a tent camping in the outdoors … watching TV.

TV is officially a pandemic, and it is clear without a doubt that it is not a trend that enriches anyone’s lives.

No! I hear you say, TV is great relaxation, it lets me de-stress, it entertains me, it’s fun! I can’t live without my TV!

Well, when we really stop and look at what TV is, perhaps the reasons not to watch it will begin to outweigh the reasons to watch it.

It was only 50 short years ago that TV literally did not play a role in the lives of most adults on the planet. Not only was there no TV, there were no phones, tablets or laptops. There was virtually no moving picture content in the home. Imagine that for a moment.

How drastically different would our lives be without moving pictures?

I use the term ‘moving pictures’ on purpose, instead of video, film, movie or TV show. Television show content is a collection of pictures that are put together into a story that in theory entertains and perhaps on occasion, presents a message of some sort. The pictures are planned in advance on a story board of some sort, and the filming of each tiny story (picture) occurs to create a single entity that looks seamless. The creators of the moving picture will plan meticulously the location, the costumes, the sound, the words and the emotions. They will film and refilm, edit and adjust it all until the recording meets the requirements of what picture is to be communicated to the viewer.

On a comedy show about six friends, the pictures might show that life is funny literally all the time, or that you can spend hours in a coffee shop every day because, let’s face it, we all have loads of time to do that. On a show about a blended family with six children, the pictures might show that the remarried couple never ever have a relationship problem, or a money problem, or a weight problem, or even stress after a long day at work. Oh, and they have a maid too! On a show about a tiny beach suburb in Australia, drama and issues are completely normal. Being at odds with your friends and scheming and strategising to bring them down is apparently normal.

The producers of a TV show decide what pictures are to be presented to the viewing public. Everyone (in theory) knows it’s make-believe and not real, or do they? How much do shows about friends, about divorced parents, about a constantly feuding community set the standard for what life is supposed to be about? How much do TV shows change our expectations of life, and what we should or should not want in our lives?

When we watch a TV show regularly, we are obviously doing so because we want to and in theory enjoy doing so.

But what else do we receive from that TV show along with the viewing experience?

What pictures of life are we adopting about ‘this is the way the world is’ from a show, that we then adopt in our own lives, never actually considering the impact of that ideal?

Shows about one man choosing his true love from 24 women tell us ‘true love exists’, as long as you are beautiful. Now you might say it’s obvious not everyone looks like that, and the show isn’t saying they do, but what about the picture of true love that is presented? Is true love the romance, the physical attraction, dating 24 people at once and knowing that you will without a doubt find the right one in a group of 24? I don’t know about you but I am 100% convinced that love between two people is not that convenient. So what pictures has that particular show imparted on single women in their twenties since its inception?

But what about reality TV, I hear you say? Surely that is much more reasonable, I mean it is ‘reality’ after all? The process of reality TV production is an absolute boon for TV channels. Big ratings and almost no actors needed. Concoct a challenging scenario, introduce competition, drama and you have a fantastic TV viewing experience that engages the public and may run for literally decades in the case of some shows.

The unsuspecting public believe they are seeing what is actually happening. This is reality TV after all.

But even here the pictures we are given on reality shows, the ideals and outcomes are carefully crafted and adjusted to do one thing, and pretty much one thing only – drive ratings – to drive advertising – to generate income.

Reality TV production requires an enormous workload of editing to get to specifically what is wanted to be presented. Stop for a moment and consider what that means. Filming is done for many hours and then, to ensure the desired ‘picture’ is presented, the many hours of film are reviewed, and then altered through editing to give you, the viewer, a picture that is engaging, palatable and entertaining. It is not by any means reality.

A recent interview with a participant of a survival reality show asked him about the use of a particular power in the show and why he had made the choice to use it when he did. The use of the power had been a high point in the show. He basically replied that the way it was shown on the show was not how it had happened (in reality); he had found the power clue a couple of days earlier, so how it was shown was not actually reality but a crafted version to suit the public needs.

This level of honesty is seemingly dismissed by us, the public, who are content to have the unreality of the reality show, so long as it meets our pictures.

The establishment of the cast on a reality TV show is likewise carefully crafted. Participants are psychologically investigated, groomed, prepared, isolated from friends and family. Their social media is controlled, they are preened to look a certain way, they can often become someone they are not. They are managed, told what to say, poked so they react, pacified so they don’t react and thrown into a mix with others that is planned to create drama!

Reality TV is created to provide a picture, no different to the drama or comedy we watch. The question is what picture are we buying, and an even bigger question - what impact does that picture have in our ongoing life?

A friend recently confided in me that she was feeling an unusual sense of paranoia in her work life and wasn’t sure what was happening as she didn’t usually feel like that. I asked her what her go to TV shows were at the moment? She paused and replied with the names of two competitive reality shows. I pointed out that when any of us watch those shows and buy-in to the so called reality drama, you are aligning to and agreeing with comparison, winning at all costs, competition and a lot more.

The reality of reality TV is that it is not reality.

The reality of the moving pictures that are now integral in almost all our lives is we are not questioning the content, we are not reading beneath the picture and asking if the messages being provided are the values we live by.

A picture is much more than a picture if it is an expectation that thereby directs the path of your life.

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  • By Heather Pope, Corporate Executive

  • Photography: Dean Whitling, Brisbane based photographer and film maker of 13 years.

    Dean shoots photos and videos for corporate portraits, architecture, products, events, marketing material, advertising & website content. Dean's philosophy - create photos and videos that have magic about them.