Simplistic Entertainment or Excusable Escapism: The Appeal of Reality TV

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It’s summer, and every person under the age of 25 or in possession of a social media account knows what that means – it’s time for Love Island. The show sends singletons to a villa in Mallorca and encourages them to ‘couple up’ with another contestant in order to try and become the most popular couple and win the £50,000 cash prize. Along the way, there are multiple ‘recouplings’, ‘dumpings’ and, as one always expects from reality television, break-ups, romance, fights and lots of drama. The nation is gripped by it every year – which begs the question, what is it about reality television that we just can’t get enough of?

Reality television is anything but realistic, and therein lies its beauty. Whether we are talking about the jet-setting, party-going lives displayed in Made in Chelsea or the dramatic antics of the Love Island contestants, viewers tune into reality television because it provides a nice departure from the mundane stress of everyday life. After a day of work commitments and other boring routines, it is fascinating to believe in the rather improbable concept of being whisked away on a seven-week holiday in which romance is as simple as picking the most attractive person out of a line-up. Therefore, the show is the perfect and most comfortable escape.

Shows like Love Island are great for easy watching – without the boredom that sometimes implies. It is a simplistic entertainment form which discourages us from viewing the people within it in all their complexity. Instead, the show works on what seems like a pantomime basis; there are the people we root for and the people we all hiss at when they appear. The extravagant personalities displayed by reality shows seem to welcome this judgement. After all, who could blame us for judging the cringey flirting style of new contestant Craig, or for disliking Amber who claims to be devoted to Kem but also tells every new boy that ‘you’re exactly my type on paper’?  These judgements are fun to make, and the nature of reality television encourages us to make them. As is the case with celebrity gossip, there is something thrilling about passing judgement on people who are real, but from whom we have enough distance to feel we can be unguarded in our comments.

What is more, the joy of reality television is only enhanced by the social media hype surrounding it. For the hour that it is on every day, Twitter and Facebook become inundated with opinions and memes regarding the events of each episode. The amount of people who watch it on a daily basis hints to the fact that reality shows offer an almost obsessive viewing experience. Group chats become committed to the discussion of the romances of these contestants, and we’ve all seen memes about Marcel’s Blazing Squad history, Camilla being a national treasure or whatever other drama happened in the villa that week. This desire to talk about the show is heightened by our ability to impact it. As viewers can vote to keep their favourites safe on the island, they get personally involved with these contestants and their antics.

So yes, Love Island is trashy television. But as well as being that, it is a show that sparks conversation, takes us out of our own lives and makes us invest in its people. And after a long day of a mundane reality so different from the sparkly, edited version of life offered within Love Island and reality television in general, can we really blame people for delving into something as simple as that?

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