Reality bites

When I was a kid, I loved watching The Goodies. The crazy situations they got themselves in, combined with silly songs and satire that I only half understood, was always hugely entertaining.

But some of it isn’t really funny anymore, and it’s not because I’ve grown out of the humour. It’s just that some things Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor made jokes about in the 1970s now seem quite prescient, as life – or should that be “reality TV life” imitates art in a pretty unfortunate way.

Yes, for years we’ve had cameras in people’s faces as they sweat over a cooktop, sing to judges, renovate or spend weeks together in a house, a jungle or on an island. Millions have been transfixed by relationships begun in the unstable crucible of the public eye, with most falling apart just as quickly as they start, and the only winner being TV ratings (cha-ching).

It’s these relationship programs that provide the most uncomfortable viewing. The episode of The Goodies that speaks most strongly to this is set in the year “2001 and a bit” – a long time away in 1976 when it was made. One of the chaps grumbles that everything has been legalised and everything’s been done, so life is “boring”. Kids’ magazines are now devoted to porn, and even “jolly King Charles” has his own popular TV show. Ouch.

When the TV is switched on, the announcer intones dully that next up on the BBC will be the “further adventures of a group of sexual deviationists”, followed by a show entitled Mother Makes 22 – and a Dog.

The audience at the time laughed heartily. I’d laugh too, if it didn’t sound oddly similar to what now passes for entertainment on our TV screens.

In 2016 we may have waved a relieved goodbye to the second season of Married at First Sight (Nine) but sadly there are plenty of relationships-as-entertainment programs to take its place. Take Adam Looking For Eve on SBS (pictured above). It’s a European show that puts a man and a woman together on a tropical island, naked. After a night together a third person arrives. Will the original person or interloper be selected? And will the chosen lover decide this is worth pursuing once the cameras switch off, or will they take the centrefold route and choose cash instead?

The Seven Network has been busily cranking out relationship shows this year. In the Seven-Year Switch four existing couples (some with kids), whose relationships are on the brink of breakdown, were separated and then paired up with someone else’s other half in an “experimental marriage”. They may have wanted help but ratings, newness and potential shock value are what the networks wanted.

These men and women needed counselling, together and off the air. A really painful moment was hearing a number of those involved, after seeing videos of their bad behaviour, say how they wanted to speak to their partner and apologise. But they couldn’t because they had signed up to a ridiculous piece of “reality” for our viewing pleasure.

Seven also provided us with the painfully awkward First Dates – title says it all, really – and soon off the conveyor belt will be Kiss Bang Love (Seven). A woman or man is blindfolded and then pashes 15 people of the opposite sex. The five kissers he or she likes the most are then invited back for another go, with blindfolds removed. And so the “relationship” begins.

If Christians are getting hooked into these shows, we need to ask ourselves why. Is it simply vicarious interest in other people’s experiences (however forced they may be through the presence of cameras), or are we buying into the premise that this might be a way to true love?

We need to challenge each other, and ourselves, about the false hope and attitudes held out on television for the sake of our faith as well as the God in whom we trust. If he graciously provides us with someone to share our lives he will do it in his timing, and for his glory, not ours. It certainly won’t be for the glory of the TV network!

There may also be a need for us to reflect on why our idea of what constitutes good viewing has been reduced to an endless navel-gazing critique of other people’s relationships, looks and talents rather than working on our own.

Pass the remote. I have a bad case of reality overkill.