Remember when the biggest drama on Australian television was to do with Alf trapped in a fire at Summer Bay? Or if Karl and Susan’s marriage was really over this time in Ramsay Street? Or if the return contestant on Wheel of Fortune was going to win the car? Now we know what the word drama really means as we are thrust into the real lives of people, as we watch them fall in love, be torn between potential suitors or simply (or not so simply) get married at first sight. Television really has come a long way since the turn of the Millennium. Or has it? Are we just watching unscripted (or poorly scripted) versions of shows that are preying on the minds of our impressionable youth, transforming the views of the modern relationship and giving unfair expectations?
To be sure, we have been given unrealistic expectations since Jane Austen’s books were adapted into BBC movies. Do most of our poor girls end up having potential suitors that are millionaires that are interested in them solely for their intelligence? So yes, our unreality is stemmed from an early point in television’s history and in fact in the history of story writing. But it could be argued that reality television is shifting us into a seeming reality. I mean isn’t that why it’s named reality TV anyway? So our youth (and let’s face it, adults too) are given the impression that what we see on TV is the way things end up in the real world.
The pace at which relationships develop and end are interesting on reality television. We have ideas from the shows about what it means to “have the feels”, “be falling in love”, “be in love”, “have good banter”, “have butterflies” or “be friend-zoned”. These evening television shows tutor the viewer in how to face relationships and what modern day romance should look like. And I think that is a dangerous thing. But let’s be honest, it is pretty entertaining.
“I love love”, is what one of the Bachelor contestants explained on the red carpet during her first impression introduction to her man dressed slick in a tux with great hair and make-up. And really we love watching people that love love. Well I do for one. It is the drama that makes you squirm in your seat and hang on until the next episode. It’s the times where you share in the blossoming romances and the underdog or wallflower transforming into the one that you want to get out of the limo last. It’s the times where you really love the expression on the face of the groom, as he impatiently waits at the end of the aisle, to catch his first glimpse of the one that he will be with “for the rest of his life”. And we are rocked when there are cheating scandals, crying out at the television of the injustice at the husband who has been cheated on. So I’ll be the first to admit, these shows have got me hook, line and sinker.
But I think there in lies the problem with MAFS and The Bachelor and all the other formats. The problem is we love watching people love love. But this is not true love. While that may seem obvious in a theoretical sense, it can surreptitiously change how we define love and relate to others. It’s the way that either in the schoolyard or office or Australian home we have changed minds on what is the way that we should operate. I acknowledge that Home and Away and Neighbours also had their cheating scandals. However we were a few steps removed from Summer Bay and Ramsay Street. Now we are delved into the lives of people, sometimes ones who we know through only a couple of degrees of separation. And if not we feel like we can relate to them on the level that they are Australians living in real suburbs we know and have been, not fictitious named streets. And these small, but sure elements allow us to think that we are not too dissimilar to these reality stars, which then permits us also to lust, cheating, inconsideration and lack of commitment.
We frame our lives on what we see around us. And when the things we see around us appear to be real, then that is what we copy. This is not necessarily intentional, but it does happen. When our news feeds elevate these reality stars into the positions of royalty rather than actors, we start thinking that reality television is reality. Although these stars have the luxury of gloss, make-up and editing. We do not. We cannot edit out our lives into a thirty minute episode. We live with the implications of our actions for a lot longer than these marriages are lasting.
I guess what I’m saying is the tantalising episodes I watch are transforming the way we interpret modern day relating. And while we watch for entertainment, our relationships are likely the poorer for it. I’m choosing to turn it off. I could think critically and separate myself from the unreality of the reality television. But the messages I’m receiving are not creating a healthiness for my mind. And at the end of the day, I want to spend my evening with my husband and not someone else’s.
Elizabeth is a Mum to Grace, step-mum to Will, wife to Ricky. She is very changeable. Sometimes she'll identify herself as a social worker, other times as a writer or even as a Christian. She loves her town of Dubbo, New South Wales. Elizabeth studied a Bachelor of Social Work at Charles Sturt University.