I don’t always enjoy reading Australian newspapers but I have to say that I loved a recent article by News Corp Susi O’Brien about the reality TV show Married At First Sight. Ms Carp wrote, “Married at First Sight is crass voyeuristic crap with a side order of humiliation, titillation and exploitation.” I think that is a fair summary of the show however it is also a big ratings hit with two million Australians tuning in every week.
Ms Carp points out that only one couple introduced on the show over five years has stayed. “There is no longer any pretence that this is a social experiment,” she writes, “it is just a mob of misfits thrown together.” But why are Australians addicted to watching it? I guess the contestants have become almost public ‘pets’. They surrender their privacy for 15 minutes of fame. I think this is a dangerous game. Everyone requires and deserves privacy.
Privacy means dignity
Privacy is connected to human dignity. People are not ‘things’ to be bought and sold or used. Every person is as valuable and worthy as you or I, but the people on Married At First Sight have become a commercial commodity. They have revealed everything about themselves to a national audience of two million. To have access to someone’s personal information is to have access to a person in a very intimate way.
When personal information is taken and sold, part of the person has been devalued and turned into a commodity. In that way the person is treated merely as a thing – a means to be used for some other end.
We need privacy to conduct human affairs, and have real relationships. Privacy is essential for forming honest relationships. The degree of intimacy in a relationship is decided partly by how much personal information we reveal. I reveal things to good friends I would never reveal to a casual acquaintance or a work colleague. What you tell your husband or wife is very different from what you would tell your boss. People tell things to their doctors or counsellors that they would never want anyone else to know. These privileged relationships, whether personal or professional, require a special level of trust, but in Married At Firs Sight people are disrespected. All their personal information is public! If couples are always under observation, they cannot enjoy the degree of intimacy that a romantic partnership should have. True love without privacy is just not possible.
Information is power
A crucial way that a person controls his or her life is by choosing which information to release to whom. If we cannot control who has our personal information, we lose our autonomy. To lose control of our personal data is to lose control of WHO we are, and who we can be in relation to others. But Married At First Sight contestants have signed away their control to TV producers. It is very ugly.
A normal person's social life is rich and varied, and has many different relationships. Each requires a different level of intimacy. Control over our personal information plays an important part in deciding that level of intimacy.
On a personal level, we need to be able to choose our friends. This choice is only meaningful if we can also choose to exclude some people from our circle of intimacy. The contestants on Married At First Sight have a circle of intimacy that extends to two million Australians, meaning they have intimacy with no one!
Should you watch reality TV?
I’m sorry but I believe that by just watching reality TV we are encouraging these people to behave badly. We are encouraging them to forfeit their own self-respect.
These are contestants who talk and obsess endlessly about themselves on national television. These people want to be celebrities and will do anything to get that. The makers of the show promote bad behaviour because it makes for “great” TV, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. Lying, bragging and behaving badly aren’t traits that will make you popular. Being selfish has serious consequences.
People on reality television behave in an over-the-top dramatic fashion, and may lead some vulnerable people to believe that it is okay to lead your life without grace or decorum. Show ratings go up when people fight and bitch over relationship issues. Contestants are encouraged to be sneaky and underhanded. Perhaps viewers want to remind themselves that their lives and their partners are not so bad. But subconsciously, the message is that good values and respect is not important. This is dangerous viewing, especially for children and teenagers.
Negative messages abound
Women and men volunteer to go on these shows and become ‘intimate’ with strangers and hope to build a future without communication or understanding. The message is that to win the heart of a partner you need to be dishonest and vindictive. Behaving like this destroys relationships. Most contestants on reality TV shows just appear to be bad actors, who are playing either a victim or a villain. It promotes a simplistic way of looking at the world.
Reality TV also encourages people to be angry and confrontational. In every episode there is yelling, screaming and tears. Is it fine to behave like a half-wit? Instead people need to be kind, compassionate and understanding in their dealings with others.
I know that reality TV can be addictive, but so is alcohol and drugs. Be very careful when making the decision to view or not to view reality TV.
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.