Mirroring alternate reality on screen, an expert's take on reality TV

Deccan Chronicle.  | Soumyabrata Gupta

Lifestyle, Viral and Trending

Psychologist Harsheen Arora talks about the implications of reality shows on participants and viewers alike.

Bollywood Salman Khan at the launch of the TV show Bigg Boss 11 in Mumbai. (Photo: PTI)

Reality shows are the flavour of the day. With Bigg Boss entering its 11th season, speculations are already rife as to how the 90 days will pan out for both inmates and viewers as contestants try to survive confined spaces and viewers decide whether the TRP goes up or down.

Reality shows are viewed for a number of reasons. For some, reality programming is more appealing than fiction. For others it is more interesting to watch the mushrooming relationships or disintegration of the same between 'real people' as opposed to fictional characters. And for others it is a way of escapism and diversion from the doldrums of real life.

Speaking about why people choose to be a part of reality shows, psychologist, Harsheen Arora who is a graduate in Psychology from Delhi University and post-graduate in clinical psychology from University of Wales, UK, says that while there are several reasons, popularity and money rule the charts. However Arora goes on to add that there is a third reason as well.

“With the hunger for publicity or money accomplished, it becomes easier for individuals to convince themselves that there is a higher purpose of getting to know them better, and that’s what pushes them to choose a show like this which would test their limits, and put them in unusual situations.”

Having decided to be a part of such an endeavour is not bereft of the psychological implications. This according to Arora, in a reality show like Bigg Boss or Big Brother, would vary from individual to individual.

“The show is like an alternate reality for its participants. Some are able to prepare themselves better to be a part of this for the stipulated period, while some aren’t.”

She goes on to explain, “For instance, when a child is sent to boarding school they have to adjust to new rules and find like-minded people they are comfortable with; some are able to adjust, while some aren’t. Each one of them has a different experience and it affects them in different ways. The same thing can be understood by the transition one has to go through with a new job or city.”

However, viewers of reality shows will realise that there is a general sense of degeneration inside the house as days progress. Arora puts it down to being negatively affected by the realisation that there is a lack of options available, something akin to freedom of choice.

“When an individual believes that they are confined in that space and don’t have a choice, it affects them negatively with each passing day. The environment in the house starts having an impact on them and starts breaking their morale.”

While Arora says that participants enter the show for money and popularity, there are quite a few reasons for outsiders to watch such shows. She boils it down to a few key factors. She says that the various reasons they watch the show range from the fact that a bird’s eye view into the lives of others is entertaining to many of them as they are able to relate to the trials and tribulations of the participants.

Furthermore, “They like to imagine themselves in the situations presented to the participant and believe that they would have done things differently. Also, they feel empowered with the idea that they are the judge.”

Calling reality shows like Bigg Boss and Big Brother a ‘crash course to real life,’ Arora says that often it is the most honest portrayal of a person we see on screen.

“One cannot build up their personality inside. They can simply express themselves in the most honest way possible. If they believe they can act 24x7 for 3 months then hats off to them for having great acting skills.”

She goes on to add, “However, when we are pretending to be someone we are not the chances of that mask slipping is higher. When we are confident in our own self and like ourselves, then there is no need to be someone we are not. Then we know this is who we are and not everyone can/will or is supposed to like us – and we are comfortable with that.”

However, Arora concludes that since the format of the show depends on getting the highest votes, participants tend to believe that they need to project an ideal image to the outside world. The image that they believe people would like, rather than who they really are.

As Bigg Boss enters its 11th season, one can only speculate on how celebrities and commoners decide to play out their personalities for the next three months.

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