Reality TV: Educating and Entertaining or has it Lost the Plot?

Reality TV: Educating and Entertaining or has it Lost the Plot?

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James Pidduck discusses whether reality TV has had its day.

We’ve recently said goodbye to the latest series of Big Brother, and the debate on whether reality TV is clinging onto the wave of its ‘heyday’ is still a hot topic on the lips of many a student and TV critic alike.

Frequently scathed as vacuous and a glaring waste of time, any self-confessed reality TV fanatic is aware of the stigma surrounding this genre. Admitting that you’re behind on this week’s reading because of a much-needed binge on Dappy’s latest antics in the house will not always get a round of applause from your peers. An awkward laugh and half-hidden look of despair is unfortunately the more likely scenario.

Whilst TOWIE stars are paddling away on Splash! and the tacky sequins of Dancing on Ice are admittedly a hard act to defend against this intellectual snobbery, the social elite of London’s heirs and heiresses now have their own reality platform in E4’s Made in Chelsea, providing an addictive insight into the champagne fuelled catfights and gossiping over cocktails. Reality TV is not just for the low-life, it seems.

Jim Davidson, this year's Celebrity Big Brother winner. Image Credits- PA
Jim Davidson, this year’s Celebrity Big Brother winner.
Image Credits- PA

The latest series of Celebrity Big Brother has proved that, with the right casting, the glory days of reality TV are very much not over. Dominating the tabloids and setting the twitter-sphere alight, this series has ignited debates on sexism, seen decade-long grudges resurface, unveiled outrageous late night antics and raised the ultimate question of whether ‘harmless flirting’ is really such a thing, thanks to Blue’s Lee Ryan and his inability to commit his affections to just ‘One Love’.

A constant presence in the ratings battle, and thus extended by Channel 5 bosses mid-series, this series has seen Big Brother yanked back into the public consciousness.

With The X Factor’s deteriorating ratings much documented in the media as signalling the downfall of Britain’s infatuation with reality TV, it cannot be denied that it still continues to bring in the blockbuster numbers that are rivalled by very few. Teamed with the ratings juggernauts of Strictly and I’m a Celebrity, this genre is still very much Queen Bee in the school playground of TV.

But why is reality TV accused of dumbing down British television exactly? Admittedly it doesn’t feature the hard-hitting politics of Newsnight or the rich history of Antiques Roadshow, but why should it? The purpose of television is to provide entertainment to the masses, all ages and personalities – even us uneducated, feral beings out there who want to see Snooki drunkenly stumble around the Jersey Shore.

To give it due credit though, reality TV very much has its benefits too. It can teach us how to perfect that cha cha, cook that chocolate brownie we drooled over on Come Dine With Me or even how to get one over on that two-faced colleague in the boardroom.

While many continually puzzle over reality TV’s ongoing popularity, it seems understandable that the public might relish the opportunity to sit back and be drawn into some easily consumable TV after a strenuous day, rather than the intricate plot twists of Homeland or the latest dreary Danish detective series, perhaps. The tellybox doesn’t need to be a highbrow educator, just a distracting friend.

In a society obsessed by celebrity and with a whirlwind of social media and journalism buzzing around us, reality TV can provide that tangible link from our living room to the glittering lights of ‘showbiz’ that we crave. However, it can also demystify this often photoshopped and sugar-coated world: locking a bunch of celebrities in a compound and poking them with a stick for our entertainment alerts us that they are in fact real people with real anxieties, and quite often there is more to them than newspaper editors paint. It can reassure girls that the latest tabloid princess can sometimes look a little worse for wear in the morning, prove that an aristocrat can in fact wash up, and reveal that an alpha male sports star may in fact be a softie after all.

So, I hope this has convinced you that reality TV is not just a vapid schedule filler but is arguably a tool for learning, a factory for real-life drama and even a social commentator of our times. While reality TV may be rotten and decaying in the fruit bowl of TV land for some, this series of Celebrity Big Brother in particular has proved it is still deliciously ripe entertainment – and that this ‘TV trash’ isn’t going in the bin anytime soon. 

James Pidduck

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