Why are we suckers for reality love shows?
From The Bachelor to Love Island and beyond, Mel Evans explores our current obsession with reality TV coupledom and why we’re lovin’ it
When it comes to love, I’m one of those people they call ‘cynical’. You know the type: always approaching the schtick with a side eye, or an amused smirk if I’m feeling festive.
Recently, though, something changed and it’s time we spoke about it. Hi, I’m Mel, and I’m addicted to watching people fall in love on TV.
It’s become a problem as the universe becomes my enabler. From the latest The Bachelor to the upcoming The Bachelorette (’cos # equality), and Married at First Sight – which isn’t even on screens right now, but we still lap up the gossip of couples postshow – and Seven Year Switch. Love Island is the latest franchise to shake its love moneymaker.
These shows not only smash the ratings – Married at First Sight claimed the top spot last season – they also make up a growing chunk of fodder for the media. If we’re not hearing about the show itself, we’re hearing about the lives of its stars. We’re reading, liking and watching in rosetinted droves, so thus, the hamster wheel keeps spinning on its wellgreased axis.
According to psychologist Dr Becky Spelman, it comes down to the basic fact we have a vested interest in dating and relationships – especially those of others. Nosy Nellies, we are. So imagine our delight when true romantic drama is served up on a nightly basis for an hour. It’s voyeurism at its best.
‘As humans, many of us are on the quest for “true love” and when we haven’t found that in our own lives, we f ind it by switching on the TV,’ explains Dr Spelman. ‘ Whether people are single or the “grass is greener”, watching these shows fuels the fantasy of what they could have without wanting to consider the bigger picture.’
Because of the fantasy of it all, we’ll justify our viewing as a guilty pleasure. As Dr Spelman explains, we feel guilty watching something that doesn’t require much brainpower. But ( here’s the upside) because they trigger our emotions and sense of escapism, they provide great pleasure.
Plus, for all those highbrow culture vultures who scoff at such entertainment, I’m here to reveal that those who enjoy a little reality TV are intelligent. And I’ve got the receipts. A recent study by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics broke down the audience of shows like Love Island perfectly.
‘ We are dealing here with an audience with aboveaverage education, which one could describe as “cultural omnivores”,’ says Keyvan Sarkhosh, who cowrote the study. ‘ Such viewers are interested in a broad spectrum of art and media across the traditional boundaries of high and popular culture.’
Et voila! Dr Spelman adds that shows like these ‘attract people who place a high value on relationships and love’.
Let’s not debate about the intelligence of it all; watching these reality shows serves as an escape from, er, reality. But also, society’s fairytaleesque view of love takes it to the next level, as watching ordinary people get it on makes us feel like it could one day happen to us.
‘ These shows trigger that interest and feed in to the fantasy that everyone can f ind true love and that love is an exciting and amazing journey,’ Dr Spelman continues. ‘Even when people know that true love isn’t as perfect or exciting as [what they see], it can be a nice place for people to escape to on a regular basis.’
We’re intelligent for watching shows like these, they makes us feel happy, and they’re definitely entertaining. So is there even a problem with my new addiction? Well, yes. They play into the idea that what we see on screen somehow resembles The Real Deal. And life, unlike The Bachelor, is not all roses.
‘ It might feed in to people’s false ideas about love,’ says Dr Spelman. ‘ It’s not good for people to think that love should be this wonderful, dramatic rollercoaster. People will often spend a lifetime believing this to be true and try to recreate this scenario in their own life, time and again, only to cause themselves emotional pain.’
Still, The Beatles were onto something when they proclaimed All you need is love. There’s a good reason that particular quote is on every second Instagram post and 86 per cent of the slogan tees at Splendour in the Grass – it does seem to be what propels us through life. Package it up and serve it as entertainment, and we’re going to want a seat at the table.
‘ Many people can relate to the emotions of the people they are watching, fantasise about being in their position, admire and envy their beauty and also love to hate and criticise them,’ Dr Spelman says of the rollercoaster ride these shows provide. ‘ There is nothing wrong with this, as long as you can also be realistic about what’s healthy in terms of relationships.’
On that note, kindly pass the remote; Love Island’s on.
Li fe, unlike The Bachelor, i s not all roses…