Has ‘reality’ TV just gone too far?

I’m shamelessly addicted to Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex, but I can’t ignore my rising sense of irritation at the way in which certain viewers blindly accept their fabricated scenes as ‘reality’. 

Despite the fact that the producers behind this relatively new brand of TV show openly acknowledge the fictional nature of such entertainment, referring to their brainchild as ‘scripted’ or ‘constructed’ reality, fans seem to be losing their sense of perspective. Many members of the Twitter community are guilty of taking MiC and TOWIE’s scripted incidents far too seriously; the most recent episode, aired on Monday 7th May, saw Louise Thompson cheat on her boyfriend Jamie Laing with her longstanding love interest, Spencer Matthews. The Twitter backlash following this scene is shocking: Louise received multiple death threats, leading her to tweet back in her defence: “I do not condone cheating, but those who agree that death threats are more acceptable should be in padded rooms”. Spencer joined in the Twitter row (‘This is a classic moment when ‘some scenes have been created for entertainment purposes’ springs to mind’, he tweeted) admitting that the scene responsible for inciting MiC fans to such aggressive extremes was, after all, fictional. 

Watch the first few minutes of any Made in Chelsea episode and you’re guaranteed to witness characters ‘accidentally’ bumping into each other in Knightsbridge boutiques and engaging in ‘spontaneous’ heated confrontations, usually concerning the questionable behaviour of somebody’s flirtatious boyfriend. But surely labelling these shows ‘constructed reality’ is too much of a contradiction of terms, and one that has evidently been misleading viewers who think that the term ‘constructed’ applies only to the cinematic staging of events and not to the actual content of the events themselves? Surely the word ‘reality’, then, ought to be reserved for TV shows that do indeed portray the real, authentic world, such as true-life documentaries and news coverage – TV that does not tamper with the reality of events in order to produce more engaging drama?

The danger of thinking about these shows in the paradoxical terms of ‘constructed reality’ is that viewers risk blurring the distinction between fictional entertainment and real lives – something that is very important if we are to maintain a sense of what is trivial and what is important. It is vital to remember that anything labelled as ‘scripted’ deliberately departs from reality to offer us a form of escapism from everyday life. Admittedly, there are some occasional scenes of genuine spontaneity and surprise in MiC and TOWIE – since the cast members are such terrible actors, it’s usually fairly obvious when a bout of tears or a fit of laughter has not been staged. But such rare displays of emotion should not lull the viewer into a false sense of authenticity – it is vital to retain distance and perspective, and to remember that despising one of the characters for their actions on screen should not transfer into reality. We feel as though we know the characters inside out, but in actual fact, what we see of them is grossly manipulated.

In a world where our engagement with culture is strongly dictated by Twitter, the gap between TV and reality is lessening since we are now able to engage with the fictional world of the small screen at the click of a button. In terms of freedom of expression and voicing one’s opinion, Twitter is a fantastic addition to our entertainment industry and culture. It also means that the characters of MiC and TOWIE have a medium of expression outside the world of their ‘scripted reality’ in which to defend themselves from unjust accusations and to show themselves as real people.

Emily Moore