Reality TV: Sadism and Shame

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I read an interesting article this morning about the downfall of television. You can imagine the gist: Modern television – horrid. Keeping Up With the Kardashians – horrid. My inner snob shares similar views: “TV. Chewing gum for the eyes. Why, i’d much rather read a book.” 

The intellect in me – if one such exists – fantasizes about a me who consumes books on a daily basis and abhors television.  And while I can say that Keeping Up With the Kardashians is horrid (in my opinion), this admission doesn’t stop me from indulging in similar monstrosities such as Made in Chelsea and The X Factor.  I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’m actually looking forward to The X Factor starting this weekend, despite the fact that every year I watch it I want to tear my face off.  Two things here: 1. Shame 2. Masochism.

The former is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.”  Watching the X Factor, therefore, almost equates to an act of wrong doing.  Let’s consider this further.  For instance, I was catching up on #madeinchelsea yesterday and I literally said to my sister “I’m watching Made in Chelsea even though it’s shit”.  Note: It is always essential to make this disclaimer when watching reality TV or else it might be known to others that you actually enjoy it.  Let’s get to the root of this so-called shame.  It would appear that we think we’re better than reality TV – or at least some of us do (myself included).  I think I am, or at least should be, above the frivolity of talentless fame junkies seeking five minutes of fame.  I should be watching the news or the latest documentary on World War I. That’s that little snob in me. In reality, I have the propensity to like crap TV.  Does that make me an idiot?

Worse still, does that make me a bad person? Does watching these inane examples of television reveal something darker about ourselves? If anyone watched BBC’s Extras, you’ll recall Gervais gave a wonderful dialogue on the evils of fame and reality TV in the Christmas finale.  He compared the concept of Big Brother, X Factor and the like to the Victorian Freak Show, where viewers took pleasure in watching the participants publicly humiliate themselves.  Let’s face it, everyone’s favourite part of the X Factor is watching those without the “X Factor” and the Kardashians wouldn’t be worth keeping up with if it wasn’t for their tears and tantrums.

Inherently tied up in these themes is the concept of judgement.  Whether talent based or following the lives of individuals, we’re given an insight into real people’s lives.  Yes, “some scenes have been created for your entertainment”, but there is an overall guise of reality that previous television never offered us.  Given that luxury, we can get to know people and, most importantly, judge them.  “How could he do that?”, “That bitch”, “They sound like a dead cat” etc etc. Our position of unseen onlooker allows us to jump on our high horses and condemn the behaviour of others as “bad” or “wrong” while proclaiming that we  “would never do that”. 

This idea of judgement is also interesting from another perspective. We judge others who watch these shows, assuming their intellect to be lesser and their standards lower.  A dangerous, prejudiced assumption which leaves us feeling “ashamed” to be watching these shows in the first place.  It seems we’re all too eager to judge from either perspective.

As far as the future is concerned, it is unlikely that reality TV will disappear anytime soon.  Its ever increasing amount only reflects the ever increasing demand for it. Whether rightly or wrongly, this appears to be what society wants from their late night viewing.  According to the aforementioned, this can be attributed to the following:

  1. We’re closet sadists who get a kick out of watching people make idiots of themselves.
  2. We are, in fact, the idiots.
  3. We enjoy judging others as it makes us feel slightly better about ourselves.

That seems awfully condemning, doesn’t it? You’ll be glad to hear, I’m going to offer you a much more appealing alternative: it’s only TV.

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2 thoughts on “Reality TV: Sadism and Shame

  1. I think it’s all to do with escapism. I sometimes think I’m better than reality TV, but then I find myself sat in front of the screen watching the Kardashians/X-Factor/Made in Chelsea.. and I like to as it makes me forget about any worries and problems I may be having in reality, and instead focus on how many times Spencer has cheated on Louise!..

    Like

  2. Well, this was certainly a very good analysis of why we watch reality TV. And I’m sure you’re right about a lot more people watching it than they let on!

    Like

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