Friday, 19 August 2011

When they want to be... on reality TV.

This week sees the return of Celebrity Big Brother, and x-factor, two of the most widely watched reality TV shows in the UK.

In Celebrity Big Brother we will see a dozen or so well-known (or in some cases not so well-known) people spend several weeks in a house with almost no access to the outside world, while their every move is captured on camera for the viewing pleasure of several million viewers. This is of course a slight alteration from the original Big Brother, where the housemates were members of the public who had to audition for the show and who spent twelve weeks shut in the house. Every week the public votes to evict one of the house-mates from the house,until at the end there is just one left and he/she wins a cash prize.

In x-factor we will watch the initial auditions, where wannabe singers will sing for the judges in the hope of being considered good enough to make it through to boot camp, and then on to the judges houses, to then hopefully appear as one of just twelve acts who will sing live for the public each week in order to be voted for and to win a £1 million recording contract.

The contestants of these shows all have one thing in common, they want to be famous, and they want that above anything else.

During the x-factor auditions we will see wannabe contestants interviewed who will tell us that "This is all I've ever wanted," and "I just can't go back to being a waitress/shop assistant/office worker." and "If I don't make it then my life will be over."

The reality is that for most of these people the dream will end within seconds, for one or two the dream will become a reality, and for the rest the fame they will gain will be based not on how good they are, but on how bad they are, and yet for some that is seemingly enough.

We have reached a stage where children look at reality TV as being something to aspire to. Rather than wanting actual careers and jobs, they want to be famous.

Surely it's time to question how it has happened that so many people see working for a living in an ordinary every day job as inferior, and instead they see being famous as the goal to aim for? Even if being famous means having been locked up in a house for twelve weeks under the constant watch of millions of television viewers, something that doesn't require any talent at all.

But it is time to question not only the people who create these shows, but also those who watch them.

For the next several weeks millions of us will tune in to the x-factor auditions, not to see the next great talent, but in order to watch several hundred people humiliate themselves in the name of entertainment. We will see pictures of the hundreds of thousands of people queuing outside the various audition venues in the hopes of being one of the lucky ones. The public are led to believe that the judges see all of them, when in actual fact contestants have to audition three times before seeing the judges. So those acts who are truly awful have been told three times that they are what the show wants, only to be humiliated on national television in front of an audience of millions.

So why do we watch it? What pleasure is there to be gained in seeing people, sometimes surely vulnerable people, being humiliated like this? Equally why do people feel the need to spend hours and hours in front of a television screen watching people in a house chatting, doing tasks, and cooking the dinner, almost like watching animals in a zoo?

It's easy enough to blame the manufacturers of these programmes for raising the expectations of the hopefuls who compete to appear in them. But in truth, without an audience there would be no programmes. So do we as the public not also have some responsibility here?

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