Pros and cons of reality TV shows

Oct 25, 2008

The First Post guide to the issue of the day


  • We live in an age of mass culture. More people read tabloids than the broadsheets, and reality TV is a fair reflection of this.
  • Elitism is out of date. People are no longer willing to accept only what broadcasters think is good for them. There is nothing wrong in giving people what they want.
  • It is intrinsically fascinating to see how people speak and behave in unusual situations. This is why many intelligent people find themselves gripped by Big Brother and other reality shows. They teach us something about human nature and so broaden our experience.
  • If we believe in freedom and free speech, then we have to accept reality TV as an expression of popular and democratic taste. Nobody is compelled to appear in reality TV programmes, or indeed to watch them.
  • Reality TV is harmless fun. Only pompous people and snobs condemn it.


  • Reality TV is vulgar and shoddy. By creating pseudo-celebrities it contributes to the debasement of popular taste.
  • It is often cruel, exposing the participants to gross humiliation for our amusement. This makes it the modern equivalent of going to laugh at the lunatics in Bedlam. The present row over racism on Big Brother shows how nasty it can be.
  • It exploits the vulnerable, and has been condemned by the Mental Health Foundation for doing so.
  • Popularity should not be the ultimate test of what is permissible. Public executions used to be popular and still are in some countries.
  • It is nonsense to say that broadcasters shouldn't set standards or be obliged to adhere to codes of behaviour. We don't for instance allow them to promote racism or sectarianism or to incite violence. Reality TV is debasing and should be strictly controlled, if not banned altogether.

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