WHY REALITY TV LOVES FIGHTS — AND WHY THAT’S (THANKFULLY) GOING AWAY

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay yelling at someone
Photo by Greg Gayne/Fox. Source from https://www.realityblurred.com/realitytv/2015/05/hells-kitchen-10-years-old/

I always held disdain towards a lot of reality TV shows. Hell’s Kitchen, Jersey Shore, Toddlers In Tiaras, America’s Next Top Model — I couldn’t stand it. There are so many reasons why I can’t stand those shows, but to list all of them would be too exhaustive of a list. What I really could not understand about their popularity, though, was all of the fighting and yelling. The backstabbing. The “drama”. The crying and screaming. The bullying and humiliation. Is this really how people act?

Luckily, more reality TV shows are side-stepping away from this model. Look at The Great British Baking Show — pure wholesome content. Even when people have to “go home”, it’s approached in a sympathetic, “you’re still a great baker” kind of way. Even as stressful as baking is — guys, if you don’t agree, try decorating a cake without everything falling apart and come back to me — there isn’t that doom music going on while everything is happening. No one is yelling into people’s faces — you just get occasional quips from Noel Fielding. Everyone is trying their best, and it’s an appreciated effort because we all know how talented everyone is.

I would also consider anything on HGTV as “reality TV”, and there isn’t anything negative about redesigning someone’s house or doing up someone’s backyard. I won’t lie — there’s also something fun about those design shows. Ooh, yesss…that blue coat of paint DOES add the pop of color this room needs. Ugh, thank you, those pillows DO tie the room together. Yes, tear down that wall, queen — give that area an open floor plan. This is everything.

The Voice is a more feel-good reality show, even though it is a competition-based show. The singers get coaches, they get training, and encouragement, all the while with no “back-stabbing”.

RuPaul’s Drag Race is another show that, while it does have some drama and backstabbing, mainly centers its show around celebrating and supporting the talent of queer and BIPOC folx and has helped foster massive support for the LGBTQ+ community. And speaking of LGBTQ+, Queer Eye. Come on. That’s just total, feel-good TV right there.

Still, for every feel-good reality show, there’s a show that feeds on putting horrible people in the spotlight and giving visiting aliens a reason why they should move on to a different planet. Aliens, this is reality TV. This is what humans are like. No, we won’t take you to our leader — we’ll just scream and whine to you about how you were late to brunch because you were talking to my ex.

So, back to the drama. Why did it persist in the first place?

It’s possible that reality TV actually brings out empathy for viewers. Something that reality TV seems to really drive is storylines for the contestants. There are confessionals, conversations, reasons for the viewer to get to know them. When they are yelled at or attacked or sent home, it’s heartbreaking — but viewers will watch for that very reason. Likewise, we also want to see justice brought to the villains of the show: the instigators, the bitches, the divas. When they get their comeuppance of being sent home, or of being “called out” and “put in their place”, viewers enjoy a sense of vicarious justice. Good job, Monica! You shut Brittany down!

Those reality TV shows where anger and bullying are exhibited often, however, actually influence their viewers to act the same. A study by psychologists at Central Michigan University found that people watching shows with more drama and anger tend to act more aggressively than people who watched more lighthearted reality shows.

Will the aggressive reality TV shows go away for good? Someday, I’m sure. Even TV trends that seem like they would last forever can die out eventually. For example, the laugh track is largely dying out in sitcoms, even though it used to be a TV staple. Reality TV won’t go anytime soon, though, considering that it makes up for nearly ⅕ of all television programs right now.

Still, what it’s changing to is promising. More Great British Baking Show, less Hell’s Kitchen. I’m here for it.

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