Reality TV is here to stay, whether we like it or not (I don’t). What started with social experiments like The Real World or soapy teen exposés like Laguna Beach, has devolved into a completely oversaturated television landscape in which people are turned into celebrities (or, at best, Instagram influencers) despite having no discernible talent.
There are, of course, some exceptions to this rule and we have seen some former reality show contestants go on to do great things both in the entertainment industry and their communities.
My disdain for the genre stems from a few places. For starters, I worry about young people aspiring to be “famous for being famous” or thinking they can go on a reality show, get a bunch on Instagram followers and live happily ever after promoting tummy tea, without acknowledging the pitfalls of this type of instant celebrity.
These shows also tend to cast very specific types of women—often with very little diversity and way too much Botox. Given that our screens and social media are dominated by these types of shows and the people who appear on them, that is a whole lot of unrealistic, photoshopped, pouty pressure on women, everywhere, to look a certain way.
As I have also lamented before, reality TV tends to give way more space and airtime to b*tchy, backstabbing bimbos than smart, independent, opinionated women. Even more wholesome shows like Beauty and the Geek get it wrong, relegating women to the status of “dumb but cute” and the men to the arena of smart but homely (and only worth dating once they have changed their outward appearance).
And then there is my biggest gripe which is that the volume of reality programming takes so much valuable money and pumps it into lazy television. Which, for the record, I believe reality TV is. It is predictable, it often falls into familiar tropes—especially ones where women are pitted against each other—and relies on the same tired “hooks” year after year.
This time, money, talent (the crew’s) and effort would be far better utilised for local productions with gravitas. Compelling scripted series with enticing character development. Brilliant feature films that offer a unique perspective on the world from a range of diverse voices—especially our Indigenous communities.
There can still be drama, there can still be romance, there can still be a villain. But does it seem right that a person who goes on TV, lounges around a house, throws tantrums and manipulates their fellow castmates should make more money for a sponsored social post, than a filmmaker, actor, writer or composer who has painstakingly honed their craft over several years?
We have an entire country of remarkable talent we may never have the chance to enjoy, because networks, studios and advertisers would rather spend money on the falsehoods of “unscripted” television, than the truth of someone’s lived experience.
I think we were all disgusted when Katie Hopkins was flown into our (allegedly) border locked country to participate in Celebrity Big Brother 2021, only to be promptly booted back to Britain for flouting our quarantine rules. All while thousands of Aussies can’t get home due to limited flights and the expense of hotel quarantine.
So, we got rid of her, but a quick glance at the rumoured lineup for the show still has my shaking my damn head. Meghan Markle’s half-brother? They’re cutting a bit fast and loose with the term “celebrity” there, aren’t they?
Then there is Caitlyn Jenner—which would be a welcome win for the underrepresented transgender community if she wasn’t trying to roll back a bunch of their rights and sporting a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat while she does it.
Jax Taylor? A man so repugnant (and, in bad news for Jenner, allegedly transphobic) that he was dumped from his mind-numbing reality show after it was revealed that he had accused a co-star of committing crimes…because she is Black.
It is exhausting and infuriating to think of these people being flown into our country and paid to be the worst versions of themselves while Aussies abroad wonder if they will ever see their families again and true creatives wonder if their talent will ever see the light of day.
Surely we can do better. I am not saying reality TV should cease to exist (I do love MasterChef, after all), I just wish we could make a little less of it so that unheard creative voices could be amplified a little more.