Quentin Tarantino’s ninth movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, boasts the three M’s: Magnificent Brad, Marvellous Leo, and the queen Margot Robbie. On my way down to London a few weeks ago, I listened to an interview with three of the cast on Radio 4.
Five minutes in, the typical Tarantino question came up: “What effect do you think the violence of these films has on those who watch it?”
Why can’t I bring myself to care about this question? I thought.
Really, it’s the kind of question that’s repeatedly asked by interviewers who can’t think of anything original to ask.
Here’s the thing, though: the problems we have as a society run deeper than the possibility your neighbor may be inclined to blow your face off a la The Hateful Eight. Rather, they stem from mental health and wellbeing issues. A case where reality TV shows like Love Island are far more harmful to a person’s psyche than a Tarantino movie.
Is it easier to pick apart an obviously fictional film than a show that supposedly depicts real people?
Collectively, we see a much larger scale of viewership for reality shows than those who visit or watch full movies. In fact, reality TV consistently ranked in the top ten most viewed cable shows in 2018 on Sunday nights. Americans are also spending ⅓ of their free time watching reality TV shows. Just in July, Love Island reached its highest-ever ratings of over six million viewers.
With our screen time so saturated with such shows, why are we not directing the same line of questioning to their TV producers? Especially when this blurred line between reality and fiction is where the danger lies. Is it easier to pick apart an obviously fictional film than a show that supposedly depicts real people?
Scientific research shows that while it is hard to tell if there is a correlation between watching violent movies and actual violence, younger kids are most susceptible when they cannot distinguish between reality and fiction: reality shows where fiction is passed off as reality.
It was huge news when Made In Chelsea (MIC) revealed that some scenes were made for “viewers’ entertainment.” Since then, The Only Way is Essex and MIC always qualify the realism before each show with a title shot. Where is this for Love Island?
Model Tyla Carr, who appeared in the 2017 series of Love Island, revealed that producers would prompt islanders to have certain conversations, going as far as repeating break-ups if they weren’t properly filmed the first time. The show wants to create an exciting narrative yet depicts participants in one-dimensional and pre-determined lights to fit a scene which is detrimental to both contestant and viewer.
Love Island, as a rule, also never shows lunchtime – it’s too boring. Too normal. Reality shows are like a video version of social media then, only showing the highlights. This wouldn’t be so bad if the shows were classed as fiction – like a say a Tarantino film – but they’re not.
Body image issues are stemming from the daily dose of six-packs and perky, tight bums.
What danger has the misrepresentation of a fictional genre as reality TV created? For starters, young impressionable viewers are given unrealistic expectations of how to look and behave.
Body image issues are stemming from the daily dose of six-packs and perky, tight bums. Google is flooded with publications – Cosmopolitan, The Independent, and Glamour – highlighting the mental health and body issues that have stemmed from the show. Cosmopolitan, in particular, warn readers of the “The Love Island Effect,” a phrase coined by Food Psychologist and previous Bake-Off finalist Kimberly Wilson.
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FOOD FOR THOUGHT || The Bafta-winning (yep) Love Island is back for its fourth series. For anyone unfamiliar, the show sends 'sexy singles' to a Spanish villa to fall in love and have their relationships voted on by the public. But I'm not here to talk about how the show has turned love in to a popularity contest (what isn't nowadays?). Nope. I just wanna give you guys the heads up on what is being dubbed the 'Love Island Effect'. – – Though not an official term the Love Island Effect is being used to describe the impact of viewing images of 'perfect' bodies on individual self-esteem. Research indicates that scrolling through hundreds of social media body images increases body dissatisfaction and watching hours of image-focused reality TV may do the same. – – A 2010 Spanish study found that males and females with disordered eating had consumed more body image-focused media (TV and magazines). A more recent Italian study found that extensive watching of reality TV correlated with eating-disordered behavior. In the UK the Image & Performance Enhancing Drug survey looks at patterns of steroid use. In 2017 they reported an increase in steroid use and that most people use them to change their body image or for cosmetic/aesthetic purposes (rather than to enhance sporting performance), which researchers believe is linked to the popularity of shows like Love Island. – – But it's not just researchers. Contestants themselves talk about the pressure to look good. Former contestant Simon Searles said of the boys, 'They'd be working out like crazy during the day trying to stay in shape. They wouldn’t eat anything.' – – So just a reminder that a) the show is cast for a specific look that b) even the cast members struggle to maintain. Enjoy the show but please watch responsibly.💕 – – REFERENCES Calado et al 2010. The mass media exposure and disordered eating behaviours in Spanish secondary students. 10.1002/erv.1024 – Barcaccia et al 2018. Dysfunctional eating behaviors, anxiety, and depression in Italian boys and girls: the role of mass media. 10.1590/1516-4446-2016-2200 – http://ipedinfo.co.uk/resources/downloads/2016%20National%20IPED%20Info%20Survey%20report%20FINAL.pdf
Posts are continuously popping up advising young people on coping with the promotion of unrealistic body types.
Young Minds recently published such a post by a 17-year-old writer. She wrote that “for two months, we are being continually inundated with uniform body types, far from the diverse society that we live in… we must always remind ourselves that what we are seeing on our screens is far from reality.”
Love Island couldn’t be further from reality and yet, it’s still classed as a reality show. We know it’s been curated for our enjoyment but insecurities quickly rise as the show’s popularity does.
The interactions of the contestants also encourage toxic relationships, show horrific ways of handling conflict, and glamorizes aggressive confrontation. Two years ago, one male contestant called a female contestant a slag.
Then, in the fifth season, contestant Amber Gill tried to convince viewers and contestants that another contestant, Danny Williams, was causing a problem. Contestant Anna Vakili added to that by dismissing him childishly, repeatedly waving and patronizingly saying “bye” as he conversed with Amber.
With over half a million views on YouTube, you start to wonder what our youth are being taught regarding ideal ways to navigate social situations in the real world.
With the moments of redemption few and far in between, one of the most telling signs of the show’s insidious nature can be seen in the fact that both Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis, past Love Island contestants, took their own lives within one year of each other.
Reality shows, then, are equally harmful to contestants. The aforementioned Instagram post also references past contestant Simon Searles who revealed, “[the boys would] be working out like crazy during the day trying to stay in shape. They wouldn’t eat anything.”
Not everyone agrees that this smudging of reality with fiction is negative, though.
Ophelia Stimpson, a 25-year-old Oxford grad viewer of Love Island, says the show is “clever” for creating “a theater which panders to ‘intelligent’ viewers.” Stimpson finds it “interesting” that “it actually refers to the people in it as the ‘cast’ and ‘characters’, and that “it’s hilarious [that] the way it’s edited makes it look like they can only comprehend the situation in front of them, with zero emotional depth.”
Tarantino has always been crystal clear about the difference between his reality and fiction.
Hilarious maybe for some, (though how arrogant do you have to be to call them intelligent) but I have an inkling this Roman-like position of letting the masses battle for your enjoyment is not taking into account the bigger picture.
Why is a Tarantino film not nearly as sinister as Love Island, then? Well, where reality shows purposefully blur the line, Tarantino has always been crystal clear about the difference between his reality and fiction.
“I abhor violence in real life and love it in the genre,” he’s said on multiple occasions. His love for violence stems from a love for “good cinema”, not a desire to see it in reality. He has attended rallies against police brutality and repeatedly called out America for not discussing its racist past – something he’s even tackled with Django Unchained.
Interviewers and critics are comfortable asking the hard questions to the producers who are used to answering them, but where are the same questions to reality show producers? Mental health and body issues are topics far more relevant to our society in 2019 than a tenuous link between violence and violence genre.
As the popularity of reality shows grow, we deserve an answer and some responsibility from the top dogs who create them.