The Reality of Reality TV: A Non-Elitist Perspective

Matthew Hodges

I should start with a disclaimer: I am not a snob about reality TV. I’m not here to tell you to watch ‘proper’ television — hello; I’m not a baby boomer. Share your Housewife and Kardashian-ridden indulgences and I won’t judge; I can probably beat them.

Truth is, I’ve always lived for the ‘real’ drama: the stand-offs; the swear-offs; the champagne throwing; and once, on the ‘Real Housewives of New York’, the prosthetic leg throwing. My friends and I gossip eagerly about all of the above, and watch religiously with wide eyes.

And man alive, you should see me defend these habits: “If these people choose to put themselves on TV like this, why can’t I enjoy it?” and “All I want is some real people and real drama.”

I know, that all sounds straight up problematic, but it’s taken me until now to understand just how bad this is. Like our girl Kylie, I’ve been “realising stuff”: behind these feisty showdowns, real women are freaking crushing each other. And we love that! Or at least, we support it by watching it.

What the hell is wrong with us?!

What provoked this Kylie-level revelation of mine? A recent episode of the ‘Real Housewives of Sydney’.

Throughout the series, bold and ‘Pulp Fiction’-esque Lisa Oldfield has vulnerably tried to navigate her marital issues. Like her problems, her actions have been incoherent and yet to be figured out by the other girls. So, they doubted and taunted her, particularly Krissy Marsh and Victoria Rees. (Or to Lisa, it’s Chewbacca and VB, Victoria Bitter.)

Not surprisingly, this lead to one problematic showdown:
“You’re always talking about the big c**ks you’ve sucked, the small c**ks you’ve sucked, ‘Oh I like a bit of anal,” Lisa blasts at Krissy. Just when we hope Lisa regrets her vile outburst, she says later in a piece-to-camera: “She’s a wh*re, she’s a tart, she’s a moll… She’s a f**king embarrassment.” And just like that, Krissy becomes another distraught and humiliated cast member and leaves the room, crying.

It’s all fun and games until someone breaks down and it was these moments of raw emotion that made me realise just how destructive these kinds of shows are. Cries for help become juicy promos, the meaty climax of each episode, and the reason we watch each week. Isn’t that even somewhat disturbing?

For me, it shattered an illusion: these aren’t just feisty entertainers having it out at each other; these are real people laying down their lives, problems, and reputation for ridicule by all of us. Producers bring it out of their cast because they know it’s what we want. We are the problem.

The actual ‘reality’ of these shows is this: they capitalise on women tearing other women down, they exploit and worsen personal issues through the prodding and prying of producers, and they reinforce problematic and sexist stereotypes.

I know, I know. This is not the story with all reality TV, but it is with the ‘Real Housewives’ franchise, and that’s a problem. All of us who claim to be feminists (i.e. decent human beings) need to recognise these issues, and not just put them down to guilty pleasures. Instead, we should push for reality TV that is more respectful and dignifying.