As I write this, it is barely a week since the greatest Olympics ever staged, with our country’s athletes across the board doing the best they have done for 104 years in terms of medals. Our nation was pretty much united in its support of not only TeamGB but also every other nation competing. The country was following every game, match, race, every challenge. We were transfixed as we enjoyed a superlative display of the best of the best of the best competing amongst themselves, pure sportsmanship, the culmination of countless lifetimes devoted to the pursuit of excellence in their individual chosen sports.
We celebrated and honoured their dedication, hard work, training, achievement and extreme talent.
We cheered on the winners, indeed we cheered every participant, and we recognised that talent, hard work and dedication is something to be celebrated, respected, admired and supported.
And didn’t it feel great?
Tonight, however, sees the complete opposite of this spirit of friendly competition, or being the best one can be, of recognising and supporting and rewarding tireless effort and dedication in the pursuit of excellence. Tonight we see TV bringing a return to public humiliation, bullying and audience manipulation, as the vile and obnoxious (and fake) X Factor returns. A programme in which we are encouraged to point and laugh cruelly at those who dare to dream that they might have talent – these people are actively selected by the producers for public display and humiliation as we are encouraged to laugh in their faces as they do their best; a programme in which the audience both in the studio and at home are carefully goaded and manipulated into supporting the acts the producers want and in to pouring derision upon everything the other acts do as their every weakness is exposed for maximum embarrassment on public TV.
The very antithesis of what we have had for the previous fortnight ad what we will have again in another fortnight.
It would be bad enough if this insidious encouragement to sneer at, laugh at, deride and crush the hopes and dreams of people were limited to just the X Factor. Unfortunately, this particular programme is just the tip of the iceberg of so-called “reality TV” shows. Shows which are far removed from reality, but which are vile, nasty, obnoxious and dangerous.
Yes, dangerous. Both to the unfortunate victims who take part, and to the general viewing public as a whole.
For as well as X Factor where we as the viewers are actively encouraged to laugh at people; laugh at people daring to try to follow their dreams doing things that the drooling baying crowds sat firmly wedged into their sofas of a Saturday night would be too petrified to do even if their lives depended upon it, we have a whole host of other ‘reality’ shows, all of which are carefully designed to pander to the lowest possible tastes, to pick holes in the contestants, to public ridicule them at every opportunity, to chew them up, destroy them and spit them out again all in the name of public entertainment.
Take Big Brother, where the producers carefully select contestants based upon who will make for the most explosive confrontational viewing, and place them in increasingly stupid situations designed to ensure that there are confrontations, fights, arguments and bullying. Where bullying, fighting, racism, homophobia and sexism are all allowed to develop and grow without a thought for the victims of the attacks, and all wrapped up with the promise of perhaps a glimpse of a hint of people having sex at some point in the House. (Seriously, if you are that desperate to see people having sex, then there is an entire internet full of amateur porn catering to every conceivable taste out there just waiting for you to discover, you know.)
Then there is I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, where the public are invited to select the celebrity they despise the most and subject them daily to some pretty vile treatment, which they semi-willingly undertake in order to boost their flagging careers. Charming.
Or what about another vile, hideous and grossly offensive show, My Big Fat Gipsy Wedding. Which didn’t actually feature Gipsies, by the way, but that’s of no interest to the blood-baying hoards who tuned in each week so that they could feel superior to the people being paraded on TV, people who they were again invited (via careful editing) to despise and revile and laugh at. The whole series was shot and edited to make these people seem less than human, to find absurdities and highlight them whilst presenting them as supposedly standard across all Gipsies, and generated a lot of complaints for its misrepresentation as a result. Children of genuine Gipsies reported significant increases in bullying after the series was aired, and many Gipsy communities protested that the show was nothing like representative of real Gipsy life. Alas these protests to Channel 4 fell on deaf ears – of course they would, C4 were not about to harm a ratings winner no matter who gets hurt in the process. The show returned for another series and the adverts promised it would be “bigger; fatter; gipsier” – what on earth does that even mean? It promised to show even more outrageous behaviour and drew even more criticism from genuine Gipsies, including some who had been approached to appear on the show or who had been unfortunate enough to be involved in the first series. All the while Channel 4 continued to encourage us, the drooling viewer, to bay for Gipsy blood and to believe these gross caricatures were in some way an accurate and realistic representation of an entire race.
Let’s be completely and brutally honest here, people.
These so-called ‘reality’ TV shows are not some sort of grand educational psychological experiment.
They are not pleasant talent shows designed to encourage upcoming stars of tomorrow and give them a break.
They are not designed to educate us as to the subtlties of other cultures and increase our knowledge of our fellow inhabitants of this planet.
They are designed to make us see these people as sub-human, to be laughed at, to be made figures of fun and derided, humiliated and ridiculed for blood-baying drooling masses.
They are the very antithesis of the spirit which filled the country during the Olympics.
They are an anathema to any supposedly civilised society.
And they are very harmful. Harmful to the unfortunate participants; harmful to the audience; harmful to society as a whole as it gets dragged down and as intolerance, abuse and hatred for our fellow people is actively encouraged.
It is not unheard-of for producers of some of these shows to sit each contestant down and discuss with them in a very concerned manner that now they are in the limelight some nasty reporter will dig and dig to uncover dirt, so if they could just spill all the beans on every possible embarrassing thing they’ve done then the kindly producers can ensure they re ready to fight any adverse publicity. The contestant duly obliges and gives the producers a guided tour of all of the skeletons in their closet, believing this will help to protect them.
The producers then sell or pass all the juiciest bits to the press to boost the hype and publicity for the show…
Derren Brown did an interesting episode exploring the way crowds work in these sort of scenarios in his 1-off episode Gameshow in which the audience were invited at every step to vote to either have something nice or something nasty happen to pone particular unsuspecting member of the public. Naturally, the drooling blood-baying audience kept voting for nasty things to happen. They even gleefully shouted out and called for the guy’s house to be smashed up for their entertainment, cheering as a baseball bat was taken to his TV; and they actually voted for him to be kidnapped and bundled into a van and taken off to a warehouse. For those who have not seen it I won’t reveal the ending (in which Derren cleverly shows the audience up for what they are), and of course the innocent member of the public was rewarded afterwards. But this is exactly the sort of audience which is watching these vile ‘reality’ shows; this is exactly the sort of behaviour which these shows are engendering in our society.
And that is why they are dangerous and should be shunned by any and all right-thinking members of a civilised society.
If the Olympics are a modern-day ressurection of the Ancient Olympics held every 4 years at Olympia, then modern “reality” TV shows are nothing more or less than the modern day resurrection of ancient Roman Gladiatorial games, beast shows and throwing of Christians to the lions. At least in Roman times they were honest about the form the ‘entertainment’ took; these days we may not physically kill people on screen for our lazy viewers’ collective entertainment (well, not yet at least) but the audience is still actively encouraged to bay for metaphorical blood in the continuing quest to humiliate, embarrass, laugh at and deride all who are foolish enough to take part.
Yet the power to stop this vile form of low-life ‘entertainment’ lies within each and every one of us. You, me, all of us.
The answer is simple.
Stop watching. And encourage your family and friends to likewise stop watching. Go and do something more constructive with your lives instead. Visit friends or family; go out and see a film or a performance at a theatre or a concert; read a book; anything but sit there allowing your brains to seep away as you join in the baying for the blood of those who dare to believe they might have a chance.
Ultimately, we are all responsible for this situation.
All of us.