A TV psychologist tells us everything that’s wrong with reality television
Dr Funkes talks sexualisation, false masculinity, and threats to relationships
Reality TV has truly cemented it’s place as part of popular culture with around 1.5 million people watching reality shows like TOWIE. Many derive their entertainment from these shows and have mimicked the actions of the stars such as people attempting to copy Kylie Jenner’s lips.
We exclusively talked to Dr Funke Baffour, a behavioural expert who has appeared on Big Brother’s Little Brother, has offered her opinions on BBC3 documentaries. She has a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology, and has been the personal psychologist for many celebrities.
With reality television becoming more and more lewd, what is the mentality of people who actually take part in the debauchery on TV?
I think when we started out with reality TV, it was like an experiment and it was new. For many it was exciting, but now things are going one step further in order to stand out and keep viewers. For example, when I started out analysing Big Brother (BB) we used to predict whether or not the people were having sex under the covers, now people are having sex over the covers!
And more people want to have sex on TV because it gets talked about. The people who go on the show want to be famous and the best way to get famous is to be as outlandish as possible to stand out from everyone else. If you need to have sex on TV to do that, they do it.
Who is to blame then?
It turns into a catch-22 where the viewers are complaining about the bad shows, saying it’s bad they are showing sex and drama. But they are the one talking about it and watching it.
Entertainment at the end of the day is a business, the producers creating this content are appealing to the large number of people watching it. If you stop watching it, they stop creating it. Like I said, you always have to one up what you had before so if you go back to that social experience format, like BB originally was, no one would watch it.
You have been analysing Big Brother for a long time, have you noticed it has got more indecent or controversial?
I have been part of BB for 7 years. When it first started, it was a social experiment and it was interesting to watch. It certainly has tried to out do itself every year and TV generally has. We get bored of the same thing over and over again so producers need to spice things up by actually having a huge part to play in setting the scene of something that is assumed to be real.
People love dysfunction because it creates good stories and is entertaining to watch. The Osbournes on MTV showed off the dysfunctional family and was the highest rated show on the channel, the same applies to The Jeremy Kyle Show.
What pressure do celebrities put on the body image?
We put celebrities on a pedestal and the media expect celebs to behave in a certain way. This means that they have to act in a certain way, dress in a certain way that makes them marketable. The use of Photoshop, surgery, and other methods distort what we consider to be the ideal image.
We then have young people who then idolise this far-fetched product and then go on to do horrible things to themselves become them. Celebrities are also caught in this catch-22 as well where they try to be relevant and change to fit with the public. The media constructs women in a sexual way and celebrities are actually a lot more self-conscious than we think so in order to stay relevant they go with it. Sex sells.
We should look at idols such as Adele who are true to themselves and their personalities shine through. I’m unsure whether Adele is actually like that when the cameras are off but we only see what is on camera anyway. Rhianna is an example of a celebrity that became too sexualised. When she first came out she was good and people focused on her talent but when she was sexualised she was a superstar around the world, its a very worrying trend. Sexualising things then becomes an aspiration and young people fall into that trap which gets turned on steroids and people can’t reach these things because it isn’t real.
Don’t forget, there is a lot of pressure for young men too. Look at things like the men’s health magazines. Men are photo-shopped as well, but it is very subtle. Celebrities then have a really huge impact on false masculinity and telling men the correct way to act.
Has TV undermined relationships? TV shows now show a lot of people cheating and not being faithful, do we learn by osmosis?
I think the main goal for television is to create drama. If someone is having a lovely happy relationship it’s nice, but no one wants to watch it. TV doesn’t care about revolutionising the way we think; they just want to make sure that you watch their program. It is strange because we think TV might want to brainwash us but they only want you to stay tuned so we do need to look inwards.
When we see these dysfunctional relationships on TV it then become a topic of conversation which is what television wants but then people start to accept dysfunction as normal behaviour as it is everywhere. TV reality shows are definitely impacting the sanctity of relationships.