After reality stars and footballers, the Olympians are just what we’ve been looking for
Since the dawn of the millennium, we’ve seen reality television spread like wildfire. This often means playing up to stereotypes – whether it’s the buffed up, drink and sex centred lifestyles seen in Geordie Shore, or the lavish and spoilt behaviour appearing in Made in Chelsea – the stars are not necessarily employed for a talent or skill; but for our guilty pleasure.
Fortunately, these last two weeks have seen a different kind of role model come to the forefront of national media. That of Olympic athletes.
A study prior to the Games in May found that there is a lack of positive female models for young women. Girlguiding UK revealed that many girls aged between seven and 21 use reality television and celebrities as a blueprint for how they should live their lives. They also found that reality TV programmes such as The Only Way is Essex and Made in Chelsea “shaped the girls view of relationships and their own behaviour”.
Personally, I enjoy the odd bit of trash TV as light entertainment, but I also see a problem when young people start to admire the exaggerated stereotypes, and even emulate them.
The success of these shows isn’t just apparent in viewing figures. The Only Way is Essex (Towie) won a BAFTA last year, and this year, the British awards even introduced a new category to recognise the appeal of the genre: Reality and Constructed Factual.
Interestingly, Ruth Wrigley, the executive producer at The Only Way is Essex said she was not worried about the image of women the show portrayed, and believes it is a realistic view of how certain women in today’s society live their lives.
“I think a lot of the girls in Towie are entrepreneurial”, she said, as they “run shops and a beauty salon.”
But the lifestyle they adopted prior to the show is exactly what allowed them to become a cast member, and this is what has ultimately led to putting them in a financial position where running a business is viable. Thus sending out the message to young viewers that acting a certain way can get you far.
It seems that as a direct result of people gaining attention and success for their less than desirable traits in reality television, ignorance became more appealing.
A typical scene in constructed reality will be one character asking another if Charles Dickens indeed wrote Winnie the Pooh, or “Where’s North London?”.
Stupidity appears to have been a trait that’s been in vogue ever since Big Brother contestant Jade Goody first asked whether “East Angular” was abroad and the nation were enamoured with her.
Since, many lovable real-life characters have found their way into the spotlight for their seemingly adorable lack of awareness or desire for education. Often, the most amusingly quoted characters in reality shows go on to their own spin-offs – Amy Childs from TOWIE, for example – which tells young girls that this is something to look up to. It’s not watching that’s the problem, it’s the appeal of mimicking the behaviour as the only way to obtain a similar success.
Some contestants on Big Brother even seem to play up to stupidity as a trait, as they’re now more media savvy and know the potential for air-time and interest to come in droves.
Chatterboxing, a term by TV Licensing, is defined as “Watching a programme on the television whilst talking to others about that programme online, normally via a social media platform”.
This form of social engagement with television shows will only continue to increase, as many wish to get involved by interacting with friends or other viewers.
Tellybug’s tweet figures indicated the series opener of The Only Way is Essex was the fifth most talked about programme last year – behind the X Factor finals and results, the Eurovision and the Wimbledon final. Nearly half of those sharing their interest on these shows were under 18-24.
The apparent success – that of fame and celebrity – can be directly translated into monetary value by gaining lucrative sponsorship deals, and even paid-for product endorsing tweets. A loosely based reality formula can be conceived - that saying or doing something stupid in the public eye can be a quick and easy route to success.
The committed athletes we’ve seen embrace their chosen sport with grace and passion over the Games have offered a stark contrast to young stars in the limelight. Training hard to feel humbled to even compete; with natural beauty and varying body shapes embraced and strength, dedication and agility becoming the new boob job.
One negative thing to transpire, however, has been news sites publishing pictures of the athletes falling out of nightclubs and even upskirt shots. There was really no need make them out to be drunks and turn them into celebs; their gracious, affable and often poignant interviews both in victory and defeat paved the way for a higher calibre of role model for young people.
Whoever came up with “Inspire a Generation” slogan for London 2012 managed to encapsulate how many have felt since watching the Olympics (whoever thought up the dire mascots on the other hand might need to go back to marketing school).
The most popular male sports star stories which litter the press in the UK tend to be that of highly paid footballers linked to infidelity, prostitutes, racism and violence – many of these simply fail to offer suitable lifestyle choices for young people to look up to.
Watching reality television doesn’t have to be seen as a bad thing; but young people emulating negative stereotypes should. Our Team GB athletes will hopefully be welcomed by the next generation, offering them a refreshing contrast to images of young role models they’ve been bombarded with up until now. Just don’t follow them out of nightclubs, it counteracts the positive example they’ve worked hard to send out. And hopefully we’ll see a 1.4 billion boost to the economy seen in new sports equipment and activities, as opposed to the skyrocketing sales of fake nails, tan, and eyelashes.Tagged in: big brother, Inspire a generation, jessica ennis, London 2012, olympics, reality television, the only way is essex, TOWIE
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