As I found myself discussing the relationship status of Mark Wright, star of The Only Way Is Essex, during a lecture on the crisis in Libya, it dawned on me that somewhere along the line, I had grossly misjudged my priorities. Why was it that the love life of a man I had never met was absorbing my attention over such pressing, socio-political affairs? Being a politics student, I felt understandably guilty, yet it led me to question what exactly it is that has drawn us to the ‘stars’ of reality television. These shows are unavoidable, whether you enjoy them or not, permeating our lives at a rate that’s virtually impossible to keep up with. No longer are we satisfied with reading a weekly magazine or a tabloid; now The Only Way is Essex, Made in Chelsea and Geordie Shore allow us unparalleled access into the lives of their ‘characters’.
Our fascination with the lives of people we have not met is by no means a new phenomenon; during the period of the Romantics, for example, we had Lord Byron, arguably the first ‘celebrity’ in the modern sense. Humans by their nature seek escapism and a distraction from their seemingly mundane lives. In the current economic climate, it is unsurprising that we turn to those who we perceive to be living a life more glamorous than our own. Yet, despite what your housemates might say, to what extent do we actually watch these shows ironically? In the knowledge that what occurs is in fact not reality, but rather a television programme that has brought people and situations together in order to create watchable television?
Has this new wave of reality television gone too far? Geordie Shore in particular has provoked outrage from many, who called it borderline pornographic, as well as an unfair portrayal of Northerners. Has our fixation upon that which is not real drawn us away from what is truly important, or should we embrace these shows for what they are – harmless and light hearted entertainment? Whichever side of the debate you may fall on, I must shamefully confess that when the 10 o’clock News starts on Sunday night, my television will be firmly set on ITV2 and The Only Way is Essex.