How Reality TV Messes with Our Take on Reality

by Dr. Carla Cornelius, Christian Examiner Contributor |
Demi Lovato at Global Citizen Festival in Hamburg, July 6, 2017. | Photo: Frank Schwichtenberg/Wikimedia Commons

A huge stride forward was made in the fight against the body shaming trend which has come to dominate our image-obsessed popular culture. It was because one woman, using her celebrity influence, recently dared to speak out. American singer, Demi Lovato, responded to a journalist's online comments that she had a "fuller figure" with the perfect retort – "I am more than my weight."  The "more" that she is referring to could arguably mean so many things such as "I am successful," "I am loved," "I am happy."  Without realizing it, she shared a life-altering Judeo-Christian worldview that we are all more than our physicality and by extension that there is more to our material world than just what we see. We are spiritual beings living in physical bodies in a world that has a spiritual dimension and spiritual laws which govern it.

Are you suffering with distorted perception?

One of the governing laws of how God relates to the human beings which He has created is that whilst "man looks at the outward appearance... God looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7, KJV).

Faith means seeing with our spiritual eyes, not just our physical eyes, and believing what God has said to be true regardless of what we see. We need to rely on what we know inside to be true even if your outer circumstances do not always bear this out. For example, reality TV often induces its viewers to make comparisons of themselves with the celebrities they are watching. "Keeping up with the Kardashians" first hit our screens in 2007, and since then they have become the most famous and talked-about family in America. For those who follow the vicissitudes of the lives of the Matriarch, Kris, and her blended family of six children from two fathers, it is possible that they might know more about the Kardashian-Jenner family than their own.

Applying the wrong filters, you may judge this family to be of more significance because of their high social profile and material success. This may lead you to think badly of your own family, and fail to realize that, minus all the hype and glamour, they have just as much dysfunction as any other family including yours.

We are conditioned to accept what we see on reality TV as real or how life should be. It has been observed that, "the genre's title of 'reality' is often criticized as being inaccurate because of claims that the genre frequently includes elements such as premeditated scripting (including a practice called 'soft-scripting,' acting, urgings from behind-the-scenes crew to create specified situations of adversity and drama, and misleading editing. It has often been described as 'scripting without paper.'  In many cases, the entire premise of the show is a contrived one, based around a competition or another unusual situation."

Former "Celebs Go Dating" star, Mark Thalassitis, took his life at the age of 26. He is the latest in a troubling number of reality TV stars who have succumbed to suicide. Sophie Gradon, former "Love Island" contestant, described the emotionally harrowing effect of online trolls on her mental health; a few months later she was found dead in 2018. The investigation to determine the exact cause of her death is still not concluded.

The instant fame which is thrust upon contestants has been likened to winning the lottery. Many lack the coping mechanisms for all the attention, much of which is negative. Is it reasonable, or indeed realistic, to throw a group of singletons together and expect them to find love? This is the premise of "Love Island."  To date, most of the couples who were formed as a result of being on the show have split.  Having been subjected to an ongoing saga of their supposed fairytale union, the viewing public are then subjected to the melodrama of their parting ways. The problems don't seem to arise when the contestants of these shows are safely cocooned away and being filmed at some exotic location, but when they re-enter the real world, and have to cope with the unsolicited comments and backlash from strangers online who see nothing wrong with unleashing venomous criticism on people they don't know personally.

There are generations who did not grow up with the internet and social media, and may have spent most of their lives without it. For them, it is difficult to wonder why victims of such unprovoked and callous online assaults should not simply go cold turkey on social media. But for certain generations, those who are millenials and younger, this is not just a virtual world but virtually their whole world where their fragile sense of identity and self-esteem is being formed.

How you perceive your worth will determine how you treat yourself and your enthusiasm for life. Your worth most certainly cannot and should not be defined by anything outside yourself such as your income, house, car, spouse, children, friends, job. They can all be taken away from you. You can even lose your mind and your health. The God-given or inviolable part of yourself is your spirit.

Rather than being told by the media what reality is, we can decide to embrace God's reality as well as the reality of the life that He has given us. No matter how humble our life's circumstances, our lives are meant to be lived with meaning and purpose. We all have great potential that He has given to us. We also cannot shy away from the ultimate reality that upon mortal death, "the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7, KJV). We can choose to resist and reject society's stereotypes and pidgeon-holes so we can lead our own authentic life – a life which is truly unique, and which will be judged by God and Him alone.

–Carla Cornelius, ph.D., gained her doctorate from Trinity School of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana. Her dissertation proposed a biblical model of counseling the suicidal based on the book of Ecclesiastes. Because the causes of suicide are multifactorial, she endeavors to bring a psycho-spiritual perspective to this complex and ever-pressing issue. In her latest book No Way Out, she has set out to create a resource which can be of direct benefit to someone who is suicidal without the need for third party intervention. In this way, the person at risk can "avoid" suicide, rather than have someone else "prevent" it.