Surely anyone who appears on reality TV must realise by now that there is a limited popularity window of about a month before the inevitable backlash begins. First it’s cool to like them, then it becomes decidedly un-cool to like them (simply because everyone else thinks it’s cool to like them) and then it becomes cool to hate them. It’s the way we function as a society. Some folk survive the backlash and grow to become (albeit minor) celebrities, but the safeguard used by most of them to weather the criticism is exactly what Britain’s Got Talent was looking for; talent.
Yes, Susan Boyle had zillions of hits on Youtube, but let’s admit it – no-one was watching it because she was particularly stunning to look at or she had an exceptionally jaw-dropping voice. They were watching it because she is a funny little Scottish woman who everyone can have a good laugh at and who can carry a note (but, to be honest, not any better than the next funny little Scottish woman). It was a freak-show from the second she stepped on stage and nothing more. If the public had admitted this, called a spade a spade and not made such a big deal out of her ‘talent’ (yes, I’m talking to you America) then the media hype would not have reached fever pitch and Susan would have shuffled back up to Scotland a very happy and contended lady, maybe with a record deal with an Easy Listening label in her back pocket. But no, we had to harp on about what a fantastic singer she is (even though she can seemingly sing only one song…), grind the media engine and wait for the inevitable crash into a treatment centre.
So now, as a direct result of Susan’s treatment, government ministers are calling for tighter regulations to protect ‘vulnerable reality television contestants’. Hmmm, what exactly do we mean by the word ‘vulnerable’ here? Are we making a comment on an individual’s mental state before they enter into the competition? If so, will TV producers be forced to exclude someone from appearing on a reality TV show if they are deemed to be mentally unstable? Surely that would be a red rag to the equality brigade. Who exactly is going to carry out a thorough assessment of each participant in a show as large as Britain’s Got Talent? And what other groups should we exclude from participating in the event that they might become a danger to themselves? (how about the fire-eaters?! hehe). I suspect that restrictions will be heaped upon reality TV as a result of this and eventually regulations will spiral to the point that it will become impracticable to produce these shows anymore. But maybe that’s the fundamental idea.
What viewers of reality TV must realise is that by complaining about the treatment of individuals like Susan Boyle they are pressing the big red self-destruct button. The truth is that the British public love watching unstable people on TV. I’m no psychiatrist but I could tell that Susan was a little ‘unsteady’ as soon as I saw her and I didn’t watch the program to hear her sing, I watched to see what she was going to do and say next. It's cruel, but true. And the same applies to other reality TV shows. Take, for example, the tenth series of Big Brother that starts tomorrow night. Should we insist that everyone who enters the Big Brother house is completely sane and ‘normal’ in every sense of the word? Good God, that would make for uber-boring TV! Maybe before we all start calling for heads to roll for the treatment of Susan Boyle, we should consider this fact. Odd folk make for great entertainment. And we all love a great breakdown, especially if it’s on live TV.
So when the television schedules have been decimated due to tighter regulations introduced in response to the many complaints to OFCOM about the unfair treatment of these individuals and you’re sat in your house bored out of your brains with only the National Geographic and QVC channels on the TV, your iPod, a good book and a pack of card, don’t say I didn’t tell you so. Still, at least we won’t be fixed to the TV screen. I’d break out the monopoly board right now if I were you…