‘Tolerance is the positive and cordial effort to understand another’s beliefs, practices and habits without necessarily sharing or accepting them’ – Joseph E. Osborne
I have a confession . . . I enjoy reality tv. Well, let me clarify that! Not the scripted programmes like Made in Chelsea, Geordie Shore, Desperate Housewives or The Only Way is Essex, nor those which glorify abuse, violence or criminal behaviour, and not the ones which watch people suffering for entertainment’s sake. But what I do enjoy are the ones which show ordinary people taking part in various different types of activity.
I like The Great British Bake Off, First Dates, Dragons Den, Coach Trip, Masterchef and Come Dine With Me. I watched every series of The X Factor. I also enjoy some of the ones with celebrities: Strictly and Dancing on Ice, for example. I even watch Love Island.
There I’ve said it! I’m a grown woman and I watch Love Island. So why do I feel ever so slightly ashamed to admit it? Probably because there are so many people who put it down, mostly without ever having watched it. They might say that it is an insult to our intelligence or that it elevates shallow personalities. I don’t dispute that at all but does watching a particular programme necessarily change who you are as a person? Of course not! It doesn’t make me shallow or any less intelligent. I enjoy watching it for the psychology: why people do the things they do, act in certain ways or make particular decisions. Personally, I find it fascinating. Knowing that there is a strong back up team behind the programme who provide counselling and emotional support to the participants helps as well although this was not the case until fairly recently and these type of programmes have been heavily, and rightly, criticised in the past.
I sometimes feel that I need to justify watching these programmes but why should I? Reality TV has its roots in documentaries with a mix of drama, confessions, sensationalism, self-improvement, competition and comedy. Although some forms of reality TV have been around for many years (Candid Camera, for example, first aired in the US in 1948 and The Family was incredibly popular in the UK in 1974), it became a distinct genre in the early 1990s and then really popular in the early 2000s with shows like Big Brother, Dragon’s Den and Who Wants to be a Millionaire first appearing on our screens. Back in 1994, the O.J. Simpson murder case dominated TV ratings for months after the televised 90 minute police chase, another form of reality TV. Some TV channels have pretty much dedicated their entire schedule to it and many magazines and tabloid newspapers are full of stories about the people who have found fame through these shows. Reality TV has made stars from participants ranging from One Direction, who were put together during the 2010 series of X Factor and Nadyia Hussain MBE who won the Great British Bake Off in 2015, to Olly Murrs, Beyonce, Amanda Holden, Kelly Clarkson, Bethenny Frankel and Kim Kardashian.
Reality TV (mostly the types that I don’t enjoy) does, of course, have plenty of negatives. Increased aggression and manipulation has been linked to viewers of programmes like The Real Housewives and Geordie Shore which contains negative verbal and relationship behaviour. Body image anxieties can be increased by watching programmes like Love Island where all the contestants have ‘perfect’ bodies. It is also worrying that recent studies show that 10% of British teenagers say they would abandon their chances of a good education if they could become a star on reality TV.
However, I’m pleased to say that there are also plenty of positives!
People taking part in these shows are often able to demonstrate a talent they might never have had the opportunity to showcase otherwise – I’m talking about singers, dancers and amateur chefs and bakers amongst others, many of whom have gone on to have very successful careers. Shows such as ‘Hoarders’, ‘Eat Well for Less’ and ‘Ten Years Younger’ can make us confront our poor patterns of behaviour and make necessary improvements. Home improvement and garden makeovers programmes help us improve our surroundings. Programmes about young parents such as ’16 and pregnant’ have been proven to decrease the pregnancy rate in the young people who watch it rather than glamorising teen pregnancy which its’ critics would have us believe. Participants on Love Island, First Dates, The Undateables, and other dating shows have found lasting love and participants on the Apprentice and Dragons Den have gone on to set up very successful businesses.
For the viewer, they can also provide a distraction from the mundane or the traumatic. They show that it is possible to overcome hardships, escape danger, survive under tough conditions, and find love. It can also help us to feel better about ourselves and our own lives and encourage us to try things that perhaps we wouldn’t have been brave enough, or even thought about, trying before. Additionally, these types of shows often raise uncomfortable issues which are then discussed, not just on the programme itself, but more generally, raising awareness.
It’s an interesting one and I for one wish that the genre of reality TV could be split into different categories as there is a part I really enjoy and a part that I absolutely don’t. How do you feel about it? Do you watch any of these shows? Do you feel embarrassed to admit to watching something? I’d love to know!
There is no tiny tweak this week, I’m not going to ask you to start watching something that holds no interest for you! However, I would like us all to think twice before putting down a whole genre of entertainment and perhaps be a little more tolerant. Maybe we could try this in other areas of our lives too, so maybe there is a tiny tweak after all – let’s all be just a little more tolerant every day, at every opportunity. Next time someone expresses a view that’s different to ours, maybe we could ask them about it rather than dismissing their view, or even the person themselves, as something or someone we have no interest in? In fact, as the Dalai Lama himself says ‘Tolerance and patience should not be treated as signs of weakness. They are signs of strength’.
Until next time xx
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