We all do it. A hard day at work or university inevitably entails an indulgence in trash TV. It’s something that requires little concentration; that makes us laugh; or even makes us feel slightly better about our lives.
Our definitions of televised ‘trash’ all differ. An hour of Geordie Shore could be an intellectual activity (not likely) or an escape from our own exhausted mental faculties. When I think of trash, I think of reality shows which, in reality, are not really reality at all… The version of ‘reality’ constructed in shows such as TOWIE or ‘Made in Chelsea’ are almost entirely constructed and aesthetically framed for our viewing pleasure.
We like to watch the ‘perils’ of other people’s lives whilst sitting comfortably on our sofas, smugly grinning that whatever is happening on screen is not happening to us. And when the most disastrous thing to happen to someone involves being exiled from a party because of a fallout with its host, it helps us to escape from the real tragedies in the world that are plastered over our daily newspapers. The suffering of our TV reality stars, being far from harrowing hardship, is more palatable to us – something that requires little emotional investment or intellectual discussion. This version of ‘reality’ distances us from the problems of the real world. But this is only speculation…
Whilst claiming to be liberal and open-minded, we all have entrenched prejudices that are brought to bear on our viewing experience. Seeing Charlotte Crosby weeing herself in bed next to Gaz prior to sex is simultaneously repulsive and hilarious, purely because it is so morbidly humiliating. If we’re all being honest with ourselves, viewing what our grandparents would call the ‘degeneracy of the youth’ – i.e. getting naked in public, losing possession of our body fluids (in one way or another) and picking up ‘lads’ and ‘lasses’ to take back to the stained sheets of the ‘shag pad’– allows us to claim our own moral superiority. Trash TV watching is thus in some way cathartic. Our lives may be bad but at least we haven’t just embarrassed ourselves on national television.
We can take the moral high ground, but ultimately we still consume as much as we condemn.
The cast of Geordie Shore were booed out of a nightclub in Newcastle by the same people who have religiously watched the show as an antidote to a boozy night out.
We pride ourselves on being a ‘cultured’ nation, and act like watching an episode of ‘Celebrity Love Island’ and ‘Ex on the Beach’ renders us unclean, yet our (not-so) secret commitment to ‘low-brow’ reality shows suggests otherwise. Perhaps the fact that we feel too constrained by our own reputations makes us secretly admire their lack of inhibition. These are raw, human emotions in their most real form. The characters of TV shows have undergone a process of unveiling. Their courtesy and their commitment to polite facades are shed and we are left with the essence of what it is really like to not give a f***. (Though of course they all play up to the cameras.)
These shows may be intellectually vacant, mind-numbing, and may encroach upon, or even displace, the real life tragedies in the news, but the heightened human emotion, the sensationalism, the drama and the hyperbolic reactions will always keep us coming back for more.