Who could forget that episode of Bigg Boss where Jade Goody found out that she was suffering from cervical cancer?
In 1949, George Orwell published a book entitled Nineteen Eighty-Four. Set in the fictional Airstrip One, this dystopian novel depicted Government surveillance, perpetual war and public mind control.
This was all overseen by ‘Big Brother’, a party leader who uses mass media and propaganda to paint an almost heroic, god-like image.
The phrase ‘Big Brother’ was unheard of before the book was published. But fast forward 65 years and the term depicts an altogether different kind of leader – reality television.
Reality TV has become a pinnacle in our everyday lives – it allows Average Joes to encounter their 15 minutes of fame and when it comes to guilty pleasures, reality TV is up there with junk food, dodgy pop music and daytime television.
X Factor, Big Brother, Come Dine With Me – all offer viewers the chance to be a bit voyeuristic, to look into the lives of people we wouldn’t ordinarily get to see, or ordinary people in extraordinary situations.
But sometimes, it can take a dark turn. In a world where a flick of the channel can show live births, strangers living together for weeks or people trying to achieve their dreams on camera, DESIblitz asks; is reality TV going too far?
The 2013 series of Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5 was the most watched series of the whole CBB franchise, but it was also the most risqué, the most sexually charged and the most argumentative.
Much was made of the love triangle between singer Lee Ryan, glamour model Casey Batchelor, and Jasmine Waltz, along with the heightened sexual tension in the house. But it seems that reality TV has been pushing the boundaries way before this and sometimes, it can have detrimental effects.
Everyone can remember that series of Celebrity Big Brother back when it was on Channel 4, with Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty – on January 16, 2007. The series attracted the largest ever number of complaints to Ofcom about the series due to the racist comments directed at Shetty by Danielle Lloyd, Jo O’Meara and Goody.
The racist comments sparked such a furore that in India, protesters took to the streets, burning effigies of the show’s organisers. The controversy surrounding the series saw a surge in viewers, with viewing figures averaging around 5 million.
Some argued that the racist comments made by Goody and co were merely down to banter, with a variety of media publications dismissing the remarks as ‘girlish rivalry’.
Various media heavyweights waded in, throwing their opinions into the ring and there was a public backlash against Goody, O’Meara and Lloyd, including Goody’s boyfriend at the time and her mother. Even notable political figures commented, with the then London mayor, Ken Livingstone, stating that the comments towards Shetty were completely unacceptable.
However, although the public seemed to side with Shetty, eventually crowning her the winner with 63 per cent of the votes, various people called for Big Brother to be cancelled, stating that it had gone too far.
Vanni Treves, Channel 4’s former Chairman, urged for the show to be removed, even though the Big Brother franchise was the channel’s most financially successful television programme, accounting for around seven per cent of its total £800 million advertising income.
Following this, however, Celebrity Big Brother was suspended on 24 August 2007 and was reinstated in January 2009.
India’s counterpart, Bigg Boss, is also a big hit. Filled with primarily famous faces, the show has enjoyed huge popularity and notoriety since its launch in 2006.
Winning a huge number of awards over the years, the show is still a major talking point – SocialAppsHQ.com, a social media marketing and monitoring platform, carried out a survey between October and December, 2013, with conversations on social media, blogs, video sharing sites and the web were observed and monitored.
They discovered that during Bigg Boss’ seventh series, conversation surrounding the show was more prominent on Twitter than Facebook and although Bigg Boss enjoyed a 98% fan following on Facebook, 71 per cent of the online conversations took place on Twitter.
In total, Bigg Boss generated around 76,847 mentions online and the conversations saw a spike during Saturdays (eviction day) and Wednesdays (when contestants were given a major task to fulfil). And, of course, who could forget that episode of Bigg Boss where Jade Goody found out that she was suffering from cervical cancer? Goody entered the Bigg Boss house in August 2008.
Two days later, she was summoned to the diary room where she was told that she had terminal cancer and this resulted her leaving the show after two days.
But what kind of world do we live in where a woman who is a product of a reality TV programme is told that she has cancer on another reality TV programme? Is reality television warping what is right and what is wrong?
The hugely successful Geordie Shore (a by-product of America’s Jersey Shore) on MTV has come under fire numerous times recently for glamorising binge drinking and promiscuity. The show centres around a group of twenty-somethings living together in Newcastle, getting drunk, sleeping with each other and fighting in nightclubs.
Now, some people would argue that this is what happens with all adults, that the people featured on these programmes are simply doing what everyone there age are doing. But not everyone agrees – Sariyah, a nurse from Birmingham, says:
“I admit that I love reality television. It’s the perfect escape from my mundane, 9-5 lifestyle. But sometimes I think that it can have a detrimental effect on what we deem to be acceptable as a culture.
“We live in a world where we have access to hundreds of channels, but ultimately this means that we have access to the most ridiculous programmes – we can watch people give birth, people talking about their strange addictions, people talking about their sex life on live TV – where do we draw the line? What next? Reality TV does go too far sometimes I think.”
The juggernaut that is reality television shows no sign of stopping – there will always be public demand for these fly-on-the-wall programmes and it is obvious that we as a nation love nothing more than watching other people living their lives.
One thing’s for sure though, it will continue to be a talking point for many years to come.