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

Cosmopolitan (Australia) - - Celebrity -

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…

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