Turns out there is a science to why we binge watch reality TV shows like Love Island. As the newest 'winter' Love Island kicks off later tonight, Amanda Cassidy explains why our guilty pleasure might be simply a sociological urge.
"It's escapism!" I explain to my non-reality-TV-obsessed friend. She doesn't get why so many of us sit around for weeks watching 20-something-year-olds flirt with each other. "It's voyeurism, plain and simple," she texts back.
She's not completely wrong.
"It is like people-watching but without the fear of someone catching our stares"
For some, reality TV offers a safe form of observation of our fellow species. And although we may not feel we identify with a bikini-clad Essex girl who says that her special talent is conquering men, there is an element of fascination with the elaborate characters and storylines the producers conjure up for our prying eyes. It is no coincidence most of them are larger than life.
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It is the same reason we watch soap operas — a study of how our peers interact with each other. It is like people-watching but without the fear of someone catching our stares.
The producers give us what we want — bitchiness, jealousy, outrageous behaviour, duvet sex... but also friendship, love, sadness, excitement, fun. As humans, we identify with their struggles and triumphs.
Alex Heddger is a cognitive behavioural therapist. He says sometimes due to the increased busy nature of our lives, we don't get enough of these emotions and feelings in real life, so we switch on the TV to experience it.
"Many people use TV and social media, in particular, to increase either passive or active relationships with others. This can be really helpful, however like all things, balance is the key. There is also increasing evidence psychologically which shows that increased use of... social media and reality TV can have negative impacts on young people's social abilities and emotional fluency."
"Our primitive urge to fit into the community is sated, albeit through screens, without having to be rejected by our group"
It is also easier to watch these scenarios unfold rather than to live them ourselves. We can live vicariously through the experiences of the 'cast' from the safety of our couch. We don't have to risk our hearts or our reputations like the people we are watching on TV. Our primitive urge to fit into the community is sated, albeit through screens, without having to be rejected by our group.
Then there is the social comparison theory. We put our lives on hold to watch these people who might make us feel better about ourselves. Or worse. We feel lucky we don't have such highly dramatic friends, we aspire to have a similar wardrobe (or not) and sometimes feel like their beach bodies might actually be achievable (or not).
It is a neat half an hour when problems get created or solved. Although we know it is not really 'reality' TV, it is as close as we can get to see how other people live their lives — or live outrageous lives when put in fancy surroundings with hot potential mates.
But let's be honest, it is also a way to bond with friends, just like popular culture has always connected. Through music, books, film, Netflix, reality TV is another extension of something we can chat about in a very shallow way which matches the increasingly less-deep connections we forge nowadays.
You are hardly going to discuss your marital problems at the water cooler with a colleague, but you sure as hell might ask them what they think of the villa's new addition — busty, surley, looking to 'heat things up'.
Plus, it is fun.
"To see lavish lifestyles, big drama, beach bodies and watch relationships unfold means we get to weigh in on the choices someone else is making without taking on any risk ourselves"
The problem is when we forget that they are real people with real lives playing whatever role the producers have created for them — the vixen, the lothario, the geek, the smart one. We get to see what it is really like to get brutally rejected — one of our biggest unconscious fears when it comes to our biological need to fit into a community of our peers.
We've seen the effects being catapulted into the spotlight can have on these reality show participants. They are picked apart, discussed and gossiped about to such an extent that it can destroy any self-esteem they might have enjoyed through fame.
I was right too, it is escapism. To see lavish lifestyles, big drama, beach bodies and watch relationships unfold means we get to weigh in on the choices someone else is making without any risk.
Investing hours into watching strangers’ lives might seem a bit weird but at the end of the day, it is often just our pre-programmed sociological urge exploited.
The new winter series of Love Island kicks off on ITV2 tonight with Irish presenter Laura Whitmore.
Image @ Facebook
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