Deia Russell-Smith: Yes
Following the suspected suicide of a 62-year-old who appeared on The Jeremy Kyle Show a few weeks ago and the death of two former Love Island contestants, the justifiability of reality TV has come into question.
Many have questioned how damaging reality television shows are for the contestants and viewers alike. The debate has attracted the likes of Katie Hopkins who, ironically, called into question the humanity of the effects of such shows on the lives of the British public.
The suicides of Love Island contestants Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon have highlighted the severe pressure that constant public scrutiny brings down on people, both male and female. The intense training programme before episodes air, the money spent on personal trainers, and sheer time in the gym have shown many fans that the body types presented on the show are far from real or sustainable. The intense and damaging norms that prevail on the Island advocate toxic masculinity and dumb femininity, leading Piers Morgan to brand the contestants “the stupidest people in the world.” The intense conditions on the show mean that few relationships last outside the confines of the villa; even this year’s beloved Jack and Dani barely made it past the six-month mark.
All these reasons for axing these shows are valid, yet cutting the shows is just the first step towards confronting the underlying trends that they have so vividly and disturbingly highlighted.
Reality TV is hardly the only place where suicide happens or people are under constant stress and scrutiny. The fact that someone dies from suicide every 90 minutes in the UK shows that television-related suicides receive wildly disproportionate media attention. Every suicide is tragic. In order to get to the root of the problem, we must take a long and hard look at how our obsession with perfection is reinforced by advertising, social media, and unrealistic body images. Lastly and most pressingly, we must consider the way that “reality” television presents and heightens reality itself.
Taking Love Island off television like Jeremy Kyle is just the tip of the iceberg. So much more needs to happen in order to prevent negative mental health and the ensuing deaths. The show has recently announced that it will try to ensure a more thorough aftercare process for this year’s contestants, raising hopes that some progress will be made. Nevertheless, however difficult it may seem, cutting such shows altogether may be a surer way to impact the lives of people positively.
More systemic solutions, however, are needed. The government needs to look closely at the implications of social media, negative advertising and television upon the lives of its citizens. Ultimately, the way to stop such suicides is to make our own reality less like the one reflected back from our screens.
James Cashman: No
I was taught, from a very young age, that life is about choices. You choose how much time you dedicate to a piece of homework, how you treat the person being bullied in your class, and how you conduct yourself in public situations. You rise and fall based on your choices.
In the same way, people choose to go onto The Jeremy Kyle Show. Guests are not randomly selected: this is not the Hunger Games. Guests know in advance that their personal lives will be laid bare to a national audience of one million people. They accept this risk and take the opportunity anyway. As former guest Dwayne Davison said on the radio recently, before he “basically texted” the show to ask to participate: “of course I knew what Jeremy Kyle was about.”
I feel dreadfully sorry for the man who recently took his own life after recording an episode. He must have been in a terrible emotional state and one can only sympathise.
However, one cannot take away his responsibility for going on the show. He was accused of infidelity by his fiancé but instead of seeking to challenge this accusation in private, he chose to confront it in front of the country. He must have known that whatever was said between himself and his partner, and whatever judgement the lie detector produced, would be broadcasted to millions.
I am not here to defend reality TV. I personally can’t stand it, and am especially dreading the imminent return of Love Island to our TV screens. I find it puerile and moronic. What I am here to defend, however, is the right of broadcasters to make such programmes, of people to consensually participate in them and of the viewer to watch them.
There seems to be a rather sinister and profoundly unhealthy culture of intolerance emerging. Instead of tolerating something that one finds uncomfortable, it is quite common now for a person to seek to suppress it. One can see this in the phenomenon of “trigger warnings” which accompany lectures and newspaper articles that contain “distressing” material, the idea being that the reader must be protected from uncomfortable feelings that may be aroused. It was thus correct, some argue, that ITV pulled The Jeremy Kyle Show because it aroused uncomfortable feelings in its guests.
As someone who has undergone therapy for clinical anxiety and depression, I can tell you that this idea is ridiculous. It suggests that the individual has no responsibility or agency, and is actually the opposite of what is required: someone suffering from an anxiety disorder must learn to weather difficult sensations in order to become more resilient for the future.
Life is difficult, and one must encounter difficult and distressing experiences and take responsibility for one’s actions. People who participate in reality TV shows do so with their eyes wide open and must deal with whatever is thrown their way. We cannot make their decisions for them.