Monkey see, Monkey do – Reality Television, creating unrealistic expectations.

Over the past 10 years we have seen a change in television.  For better of worse it’s here to stay.  Not because of skilled performers but because ratings and the increasing wealth of the networks by not having to fund expensive written productions or pay costly actors/actresses.   The new genre of television “Reality television” is here to stay.

One day, not long ago, an associate at a board meeting had an idea.  He took a gamble, and it paid off big time.  Not just for himself, but to the delight of many a divorce lawyer, not to mention the millions of single guys and girls out there blessed with little or no morality when it comes to entertaining someone of the opposite (or same-sex) that may happen to be off-limits (ie, married).


From that idea, the world of reality television started airing shows such as “7 year itch” and “Wife swap”, even “The Bachelorette”.  The result has had an impact on the thoughts of anyone that’s wasted 45 minutes watching psychologically evaluated opposites clash over personalities, and happily married people introduced to someone better matched to them than they’re wife/husband.


Personally, when I turn on the television, the last thing I want to watch is a Farmer trying to choose a wife out of a pool of 20 suitors, or 10 couples try to outdo each other by building a house of which is built for them by professionals and judges by a panel that has varying tastes.   I can see this all without turning the television on by walking across the road or sitting in a country bar watching “Billy Joe” the farmer hit on “Delores” the waitress.


Over the past several months I have been witness to several marriage breakups of people who have been happily married for years.  These people used to actively participate in sports and group activities with their families, attend social outings and were what I would call “long haulers”.  Something changed.  I think I can put a finger on what it is that’s caused the strain, what has caused happily married people to look at their partner and start wondering “Is he/she really the one for me ?”, or “I think I deserve more that what I have, even if I’m happy now”.   Reality show couples almost always never last.   The tabloids happily show a smitten couple, brought together through a process of elimination signified by the prose a red rose as a symbol of achievement, they show images of dream holidays in tropical locations, and make viewers believe true love actually exists, and everything can be perfect.  Two months after the show finishes, they feature a story of how a fairytale couple turns into a nightmare of fighting and divorce.   No wonder the dream of “happily ever after” is nonexistent in today’s world.


We all know that its easy question our decisions.  We all do it.  But the influence to question something that we would never have considered brought about by extremely clever teams of psychologists, psychiatrists, communications experts through the medium of television has actually made society a scary place.

The influential power of visual media is well stated throughout time.  Taking the next step via reality shows has seen the viewers of such shows modify their beliefs by simply liking a character on the show they watch, in exactly the same way a child would idolize they’re favorite sports star.  The child attempts to mimic they’re idol, take on certain traits, and behaviours.  This is a good thing.  Success comes from mimicking success,   do what a successful person does, behave like them and the chances of your own success will be greatly improved.

What is happening now, is we are seeing a happily married couple on television,  granted, there may be an issue or two (what married couple doesn’t have an issue or two ?) that like all past issues, they would have worked out creating a stronger bond between them.  However, they sign a television contract, and before they know what’s happened they find themselves separated,  and in a house with someone designed to be better suited to them than what their husband/wife are, with the sole purpose on seeing if the bond between them is strong enough to weather the advances of this amazingly good-looking, psychologically better suited stranger.

Amy and John (random names I’ve chosen) are sitting on the couch, relaxing after a days work, happily married, start watching a show depicting the above.   A simple problem, lets say, Amy doesn’t like how John talks when around his friends.  Something that could easily be discussed between them and one that John may well be happy to take on board and make changes, because he loves Amy.  The show they watch depicts a happy couple with a similar problem.  However the way that the TV couple deal with it see’s them argue, over react and separate.  Amy starts to worry that John may react in a similar way to the TV couple, and buries the problem.  It grows developing into resentment and eventually causes a rift that there’s no coming back from.


The above example is pretty low scale compared to the problems seen on television between the couples contracted to entertain us.  The result is the same though.  The influence of suggestion of high, especially with everything else that happening in the world today.  Entertainment has gone from happy comedy, to adventurous stories, action, drama to reality.  The word reality television suggests what we see is real.  How people react to certain environments on television on “reality” shows creates suggestion that we should, or might react in a similar way.

A cabinet-maker friend of mine was telling me about the lack of business in his area of expertise.  He said, home decorators, painters and even local landscapers had seen a decrease in available work.   Then he said this “Shane, it’s because of the amount of “Do-It-Yourself” reality TV shows.  People see a couple on television changing the house, adding extensions, knocking out walls, and they believe its easy, because of what they see on television.  So they simply take on the projects themselves”.

This is great if you own a hardware store, not so great if your livelihood is dependent on your trade.   Here’s the problem.  Television makes things look easy.  Behind the scenes, and what the producers don’t show, is the  professionals finishing the jobs the couple are seen starting.   Building codes, laws relating to qualified trades people, are there to ensure are houses are safe, and remain insurable.


This shows the influences of reality television.  People see something on the screen, and believe they can do what they see, behave the way the people on-screen behave and make decisions based on the reasoning the character on television in a similar, yet designed situation does.    The universally known saying – “Monkey see, monkey do” comes to mind.

I could start on cooking shows, but I’ll leave this one alone.  I can’t find fault in a TV show regardless if it is reality or instructional that makes people want to cook better.   The restaurant industry may beg to differ.

Weight loss reality.  Filmed over 12 months yet portrayed as 8 weeks.  Extreme dieting and pharmaceutical assistance give the impression extreme weight loss is actually achievable, while being tempted with chocolate moose, cupcakes and roast lamb.  Ask any health professional if it is possible to drop 15kg’s of fat in a week.  You’ll be surprised what the answer is.

I firmly believe that the Reality Television must at some point take responsibility for the influences their shows bestow on their viewers.  I also believe that it is the viewers choice to watch such shows.  The networks know reality TV is easy money.  They report the fact “Sam cheated on Henry with Isobel” in their papers and during the TV news updates like it were actual news.  Every second advert is for their show, and even actual paid actors comment on who their favorite cook on “Master Chef” is.  How can we avoid the peer pressure that stabs at us from every angle ?.   People are arguing on the streets because they believe “Andrew should have given the rose to Sarah” and “Jason is a bad person because Alison gave him a massage in the spa pool, when his wife Danielle has managed to avoid the advances of Luke, whom she’s sharing a bed with”.

I say bring back shows that actually encourage us to be nice to each other, shows such as “Full House”, “Happy Days” for example,  television that taught the viewers how deal with issues through the actors on-screen, while entertaining us, and making us laugh.

The most powerful, the most influential medium besides religion, must realise it has the power to change the society we see from the safety of our homes.  Do they really care ?

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