British TV Conference Hears Downside of Reality TV
by Susan Schechter
Contestants from the British Big Brother shows were among the speakers at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, and were among the most critical of reality TV shows. Psychologists also took the opportunity to call for more study of what happens to participants on such shows.
Dateline: Edinburgh, Scotland, Weekend of August 24-26, 2001
The Edinburgh International Television Festival was held last week. One of the topics discussed was the phenomena that is Reality Television. And some of the most vocal about the downside of reality television have been former members of the Channel Four (UK) Big Brother television Programme.
Vanessa Feltz, a contestant from the 2001 BB claims to be damaged from her experience in the house. According to Vanessa, there is nothing less real than reality television. She told the conference participants, “I was edited to look like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. People go into the house thinking there are no downsides.” Narinder, another contestant from Newcastle upon Tyne, England (see photo above), has been receiving psychiatric help, arranged by Channel 4 since she left the house six weeks ago, according to a report in the London Sunday Times. She said: "Yes, I know that I should really close my front door now and just be Narinder again. But I will probably need this help for months.” Narinder is a beautiful, young Indian woman, in her late 20s and a former actress. One of her most endearing scenes was trying to teach the houseguests how to cook pilau rice. Narinder says she’s “still got people peering in my front room at 10 o’clock every night.” But Narinder and Elizabeth , despite their vocal criticism, both said they did not regret taking part in the show. In fact, Narinder could be on her way to become a radio DJ, according to an account last weekend in The Sun. She has been chosen to front a bid for a licence by East Midlands Based Liquid FM, which would specialise in music from rock bands such as Limp Bizkit.
Narinder told The Sun: "I'm very excited. All my life I've dreamt of finding fame as a radio or TV presenter."
A spokesman for Liquid FM said: "Our research shows Liquid's audience will identify with Narinder's no-nonsense personality."
And to add more fuel to the reality fire, a psychologist is calling for a scientific study into the effects of reality TV to protect vulnerable participants.
Oliver James, himself a broadcaster, has said he's worried that dozens of people could actually be “damaged” by taking part in such programmes.
He spoke to TV execs at the Edinburgh TV festival as the execs looked at the impact such shows as Big Brother and the upcoming Temptation Island would have in the UK.
But Dr James says he has spoken to a number of reality show contestants, and he feels that they did not fully appreciate the impact the programmes would have on their lives, or the way their lives would be changed. I guess they should be reading articles on this website!
Contestants interviewed by Dr James include Allan Bridges, who was in Channel 4’s Shipwrecked, and told Dr James that he thought the show would help him get a step on the ladder to a TV career. A month after the series ended, the only employment he could find was temp work. Contrast this to a participant in this year’s BB, Paul, who is as I write, jetting off to Ibiza after signing up as a guest presenter with Channel 5 programme Exclusive. He will be leaving his BB girlfriend, Helen, for a week to take up with another blonde beauty, presenter Tess Daly, to bring back all the gossip from the island for this programme.
Dr James said, “The clinical psychologist in me can’t help worrying about Allan Bridges and the dozens of other people in reality television programmes that might be actually damaged by taking part.” He added that “emotionally vulnerable people” were continuing to take part in shows, but pointed out that the broadcasters were not social workers and only a proper scientific study could assess the long and short term effects and apply them to future shows.
Dr James added: "It's not just namby pamby psychobabble to say that the broadcasting industry should fund this study."
BBC1 controller Lorraine Heggessey said many participants did not fully realise the impact of what they might have said on camera when it was actually screened on TV. And Narinder Kaur, who appeared in the second series of Big Brother, said: "I came away from this experience thinking 'Oh my God, did I really say that?' I've found it more humiliating coming out, not being in there."
Liz Warner, Channel 4's commissioning editor for Big Brother, told the festival all participants saw a psychiatrist before selection.
She said: "You are looking for people who are robust and not naive. It's not about humiliation."