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Does Reality TV Promote Toxic Relationships?

Culture

All over social media, we see people talking about the newest Love Island episode. When you log onto Netflix, half of the trending shows are reality series. Those who look down upon reality TV always say “You know it's probably scripted, right?”. But even the most devoted viewers know that. What is never really clear is what is scripted and what isn’t, and that’s the intriguing part.

It's the escapism that reality TV gives us that has us wanting more. There are plenty of fiction shows that also offer us the same break from our world, but we know that it’s unreal. There are other shows that are real, there is no second guessing if it is scripted. But with reality shows, the fake scenes make the real ones even more authentic. It makes us compare ourselves to the people we see on screen.

A lot of the most popular reality TV series are shows related to dating. If it isn’t obvious, people love drama when they’re not involved. It’s fascinating to watch people come together, break up, and get together with someone else all in the span of one episode and a massive blowout. But if we are all glued to our screens, is there a chance we will start picking up that behavior?

So Much Drama, So Little Time

On screen, we end up seeing couples go through so many stages in such a harsh way, in so little time. That’s the whole reason we watch them. Even if some shows are filmed over the course of a few months, most of the time, we see a new episode every week. So, the fact that we see so many shifts over the course of such a short time, remains as a reminder that what we see on screen isn’t realistic.

A couple we saw on screen has probably been in a relationship for months even though the show itself has been airing for just a few weeks. So, when we see them break-up, things have probably been brewing behind the scenes for even longer. The producers probably chose to only air the dramatic scenes to gain more viewers.

Even when it is close to real time, cast members probably picked up that the more content they provide the show, the more screen time they get. We've actually seen this happen with other reality TV shows like Dance Moms for example. Former cast members have come out to say producers set them up or tell them to cause fights. One even mentioned that her abrasive nature was an act to remain on the show. It wouldn't be hard to believe that this is still how the reality TV industry still works.

The Setting Makes the Scene

A lot of these shows follow a group of people all living together in one house. However, it isnt even just a house. Its mansions, villas, with giant pools, fancy pools, and gourmet food. The area surrounding the cast is also a reminder of the situation. There are still people behind the scenes, with giant cameras and lights trying to get the perfect shot. Of course, there are also producers who sometimes try to set people up in order to create more drama.

Shows would not sell if they showed a healthy couple properly communicating about their feelings in order to maintain their relationship. Production companies know that, which is why, when casting for their shows, they find the most outgoing, outspoken, and “confident” people they can find.

Awareness

When doing research for this article, I had a survey asking people why they watch these dating shows in the first place. Many of them simply said “I love the drama”. Others basically explained that it's a way for them to escape from their own reality.

If you log onto Twitter after an episode of Love Island or The Bachelor/Bachelorette airs, there’s always tweets about the latest couples, fights that happened, and all kinds of rants. They don’t discuss what happened nor do they analyze it. As a matter of fact, I’ve only seen people do this with actual TV shows like Euphoria. So what does this information mean?

People are aware of how fake shows like these are. We know that what we saw wasn’t 100% real. Not everyone is going to get together, have the most dramatic fight, and get back together for a whole season. That’s why we are so entertained. Any couples that I know that had toxic relationships didn’t glorify it, or didn’t imitate what they saw on TV. These people were actually pretty miserable with their situation.

So, overall, no. I don’t believe that reality TV promotes toxic relationships. Mature viewers have enough sense to know what is right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy. Immature viewers, or even younger, impressionable viewers (who shouldn’t be watching these shows in the first place) would get these toxic ideas from any form of media.

While I do believe creating shows based on drama within relationships is not the best idea for our society, if we step back and search for an actual impact, it simply isn’t that big. As a people, we can find amusement and entertainment in dramatic shows like this. It’s a part of our nature. But we shouldn’t glorify or get too swept up in the drama we see on screen.

Lusiana Avalos
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Lusiana Avalos is studying Art and Design at London Southbank University. She studied Communications and Media in Switzerland. Lusiana loves to write, draw, read and is an active member of her university's drama society.