Reality T.V., is often seen as the lowest common denomination of television, which uses it’s participants like freaks in a circus show.Unfortunately it is TOTALLY addictive. I say this as someone who simply cannot get enough of bad reality television. I know in my heart of hearts that this is cheap and badly made, but i simply cannot say no. It’s like leaving a chocolate bar half eaten, it’s almost a crime not to watch trashy T.V. One of my favourites to date is the ambitious and extravagant, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. This is a show that looks at the Irish Traveller lifestyle, going behind the scenes and the prejudice to take a look at some of their traditions and of course their incredibly extravagant weddings.
I bring forth the Public sphere and argument that gives trashy T.V. a rightful place in the arena. Perhaps it is time to look at Reality T.V. with a tiny little bit more respect. The public sphere in it’s original form was supposed to be a place where people could publicise and debate things, like politics and the daily News. The Mediated public sphere has been good at this until the rise of the tabloid press. The public sphere now faces what some criticise as unworthy information being circulated, this new sphere is fragmented and spectacularised. It’s about producers making cheap television, earning large sums of money and gaining high ratings. We face the war of information vs entertainment. But have you ever asked, if this trashy entertainment based television they’re pushing is so second rate, then why are the ratings so high? This is the kind of television that everyone can enjoy. It is classless, commercialised and oh so entertaining.
“The second episode (of My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings) in 2011 got 7.4m viewers at its peak. Channel 4’s highest ratings since Big Brother in 2008”
– Jason Deans for the Guardian Feb 16 2011, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings Drowns out Brits.
Unlike the original public sphere envisioned by Habermus (1989 : 2) where people could come together to debate politics in a rational way. The Public sphere is now more then ever a place for entertainment of the masses, it is not limited to the highly educated, or the upper middle class man, it is a place for all.
However that is not to say that it is not informative.
If we take the smash hit program My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, which looks at the Irish Traveller population in the UK and some of their traditions, the set up of this ‘documentary’ is typical of reality T.V, but it has begun a debate, a debate about the Traveller and Romany Gypsy populations. It looks not only at the ten tonne dresses which the women appear to favour but also at the hardships this minority face, like housing and land rights, stereotyping and misinformation. It has prompted more discussion about the plight of the often misunderstood and marginalised Gypsy and Traveller communities. While this program does have an almost exploitative approach to the Traveller culture, it has brought to light many previously ignored problems and stigmatisations these communities face. This is a show that aims at sparking interest and getting ratings, to do so the producers appear to have trod on a few toes. Is it any wonder that some outrage follows? as the saying goes
“Any Publicity is Good Publicity”
So is this new mediated public sphere a bad thing?
Whilst programs like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding are not made to the high standards and subject to the same kind of journalistic quality that shows like 4 Corners are, they are adding to the public debate, creating controversy and in some places, political change. So before you completely write off reality television, think about some of the issues that it highlights, the debate it creates, as unintentional as it may be.
McKee, Alan. The Public Sphere: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 2005, pg. 1-31.