The Dark Side of Reality TV?

Potion Pictures: Love Island Logo 2015

By Bethany Griffiths

I think it’s safe to say that this summer could go down in history as being one of the most eventful the UK has ever seen (probably a slight overreaction, but): we’ve recorded some of the highest temperatures on record for June and July, and we’ve seen the madness unfold on our streets as England actually made it to the semi finals of the World Cup. The drama didn’t stop there, however, as much of the summer’s most anticipated moments took place on our screens as Love Island returned for its fourth series. We saw the nation divided as we rallied behind our favourite and least favourite couples, with Jack and Dani taking it all the way and winning the cash prize (yep, didn’t see that one coming). Reality TV is a cornerstone of our society, constantly evolving and growing in popularity, as the success of this year’s Love Island has proven. However, is this ever-changing world of reality TV having more of a detrimental effect on society and the long line of eager contestants hoping to find fame on these types of shows?

As the rise and fall of Big Brother and its counterpart show, Celebrity Big Brother, has shown, it takes a lot to keep a reality TV show alive for a long period of time. This is something that the producers of Love Island are clearly aware of. Desperate to keep up the Love Island hype they keep adapting and changing the show in order to keep up their hefty ratings. However, as this series as seen, it is clear that the producers are prepared to stop at nothing in order to entertain viewers – often leading to what can only be described the as sadistic tormenting of some contestants. This year Love Island received major backlash as Dani Dyer was shown footage of her new beau’s ex entering Casa Amor (an island where the boys were staying without their other halves). Of course, this provided her with anxiety about what exactly was going on in the other villa, with many viewers suggesting it was an unnecessary alteration of the truth used to torment Dani and keep viewers interested.

This comes as old contestants of the show, including former Miss Great Britain Zara Holland, have revealed that Love Island do not keep in touch with old contestants to check how they’re fairing after their stint on the show. Holland has also revealed that she has been prescribed anti-depressants after being referred to a psychologist due to her declining mental health as a result of being on the show. This therefore raises the question whether reality TV is having more of a detrimental effect on its contestants. The quest for fame, and the somewhat ease to obtain fame by being on these shows, ultimately comes at a cost: to be publicly humiliated and tormented to entertain the masses of viewers.

Of course, it’s not just Love Island that raises concerns. Reality TV is an ever-changing playing field, with more and more shows being invented all the time to satisfy our cravings. Channel 5’s In Therapy even follows the reality TV stars that are struggling with their mental health, often as a result of their new-found fame through reality TV. It is not only the events happening onscreen that can have a knock-on affect on contestants, it is also the reactions of the public. Reality TV, although the authentication of events happening onscreen is disputed, portrays the contestant’s ‘real’ personalities on display for all to see, there is no privacy. Everything you do is open to criticism, and nothing you do can ever be private. If this is the case, there is no wonder that reality TV stars often complain of the struggle to come to terms with life after staring on these types of shows.

In addition to the effects of reality TV on contestants, it can be said that reality TV helps to perpetrate stereotypes that can have a damaging affect in our society. Recently the head of the London Fire Brigade, Dany Cotton, has said that Love Island’s decision to dress the boys as firefighters rescuing the ‘helpless’ girls merely enforces ‘offensive’ stereotypes that put girls off wanting to be firefighters. Moreover, The Only Way is Essex has been criticised by women’s support charities for allowing the boys to treat the girls on the show disrespectfully, bordering on verbal abuse. These incidents encourage worrying beliefs about the differences between boys and girls in our society, often encouraging rather outdated views and pushing our society backwards.

TOWIE was criticised by charity Women’s Aid over the behavior of its contestants

Of course, reality TV isn’t all bad, and I’m sure many of us can say we’ve sat with a cuppa relaxing with a bit of CBB this week. However, more certainly needs to be done to ensure producers are doing their upmost to ensure contestants are comfortable and happy, rather than putting ratings and profit over mental health and respectable behaviour.