Reality TV shows: a bit of fun or thriving on a culture of bullying?

It always strikes me as odd, and I guess somewhat disturbing and hypocritical, when I see our morning shows spruiking the “no bullying’ message. They get experts in to talk about the things we can do to help kids avoid bullying situations and the steps we can take if we are subjected to school, workplace or online bullying. We hear the pleas to “Just be kind” and “Show respect to all”. Then less than 12 hours later, those same television stations are spruiking the reality television shows that thrive on creating conflict, manipulating backstabbing, cheap shots and downright mean and nasty behaviour. The public then relishes in the now, ritualistic, tearing each other apart, all in the name of a good laugh.

And the premises are usually always the same. Gather some celeb hungry people into a small space, have winners and losers that need to be pitted against each other. Offer some money or a spouse as a prize, add some stressful encounters, cameras, editing, the odd tantrum for good measure, and we have a pretty volatile but commercially viable ratings success.

Now I don’t want to be a complete killjoy here because I know many people love the mindless viewing these programs allow. After a hard day of work or wrangling toddlers, sitting back to watch a group of these would be celebrities bitch fight for the cameras is a somewhat relaxing way to spend an evening. It may certainly take one’s mind off one’s own problems or stresses from the day. Afterall, these people put themselves on these shows, so they are pretty much fair game and there for our amusement.

And there are plenty of young people enjoying these shows as well. And sure, many can take it for what they are, have a few laughs and move on. And I do stress that mean and nasty behaviour does not equate to a definition of bullying. But are these behaviours then seen as an acceptable way to treat other people which may in turn be creating a culture of bullying?

Because it does seem somewhat hypocritical that these networks who are supposedly trying hard to eradicate bullying and downright bad behaviour on one hand, are then able to go about promoting, revelling and even conjuring it up with these types of shows. They love to create a villain, edit comments and context out of their true meaning and then promote the “showdowns” and bitchy exploits that result in name calling, put downs, and downright degradation. Then the poor contestants themselves, who just wanted a leg up for their fledgling acting career, or desperately wanted to meet Mr or Mrs Right, or finally get their cook book published, must put up with all manner of trolling and personal insult. These threats from a social media public become the norm from people who believe they have every right to make comment on those they now deem as public property. And subsequently our reality TV stars are often forced into hiding or social media shutdown as they struggle with the backlash. Not all of course. Some do go on to get great acting roles, create their product or even start a family with the runner up.

But I do cringe when I hear the way some of these men and women speak to each other. I cringe when I think our young boys and girls are watching this stuff and thinking this behaviour is acceptable. I hope those parents who are watching it with their kids are talking about those behaviours as they watch.
We are trying so hard to not let people get away with it in our schools or indeed in our workplaces….yet here we are putting it up in lights, promoting it, supporting it and continuing to watch with alarming prevalence.

Sure bullying has been around a long time and is not a product of reality television. But let’s hope in this National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence,  we can do something a little more positive when it comes to making our schools and workplaces kinder, fairer and more respectful places to be.

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