…Is My Strange Addiction, Hoarders: Buried Alive, Embarrassing Bodies, Supersize vs Superskinny, Freaky Eaters, and pretty much any other voyeur type reality show. I have to slink off to the bedroom to covertly watch them on my laptop while the rest of the household watches something bright and sanitised in the lounge.
I hate that I watch shows like this, I don’t understand my own fascination with them. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I ‘enjoy’ them, however I’m clearly entertained on some level because I keep going back for more.
This type of reality TV focuses on people at their lowest point. Whether they’re wading through thigh deep mummified food, animal faeces, and newspapers from 1982 just to answer the front door or gagging theatrically because a dietitian made them put their tongue on a sliver of strawberry, the subjects of these shows are rarely of sound body and mind. Should serious mental illness such as hoarding or food aversion be broadcast to an ogling mass audience? No, there is no justifiable reason that someone’s downward spiral to self-destruction should be considered entertainment but here I am…
I’m not alone in this. The sky high ratings these shows get both here in New Zealand and overseas show this format sells and I have a few theories as to why.
- Superiority complex. We all feel at times like we just can’t adult. Responsibilities, errands and chores mount up while we’re engaged elsewhere (possibly watching Dr Christian Jessen talk us through some poor unfortunate soul’s trench foot) watching other people unravelling more spectacularly than ourselves can be reassuring. Sure, we forgot to pay to have the bins emptied but at least we don’t have a complete breakdown at the mere suggestion of a broccoli floret. This is surfing a dangerous line of putting others down to raise ourselves up which is not healthy or ultimately satisfying behaviour.
- Morbid fascination. Years ago people would flock to Freak Shows. The more shocking the deformity, the more gawking punters you could get through the doors. The human brain seeks to make sense and categorise all that it senses. When it can’t, as we find oftentimes with clowns for example, we experience a kind of weirded out ‘rush’. Anything that is outside of our normal understanding of the world will catch our attention. For the majority of people a dude being in a sexual relationship with his car or a woman who eats her own hair are not something we’ve experienced so we’ll be naturally curious to know more.
- We like happy endings. The least morally reprehensible reason to watch is that we love to see people get the help they so clearly need and turn their lives around. I remember watching one episode of Hoarders where a woman’s horrendous harpy of a sister kept threatening to sue her for custody of her daughter rather than actually helping her with the hoarding problem. I’ve never willed someone to succeed in cleaning up their house as fervently as I did during this particular episode. Many of these shows trigger our consonance and dissonance which creates the addictive viewing
So am I going to stop watching now I’ve written 500 words condemning this type of programme? Probably not. Boredom, bad days and half a bottle of pinot noir happen, my inbuilt nosiness happens and the fact I just can’t help myself happens. It’s also a break from the shiny perfection we’re used to seeing on TV. However I hope now I will look at the people baring their lives and souls for the entire world with more empathy than judgement.