Is there still a place for reality TV?

The panel of comedians and actors who offer commentary on the lives of the six young people living in Terrace House

Highlighting an ongoing issue within this genre of entertainment, the recent suicide of reality show Terrace House member and pro-wrestler, Hana Kimura, shocked and saddened fans on an international scale. Reality television has permeated our society to such an extent that the suicide of a cast member is not even enough for the show to be cancelled, this event is simply viewed as some bad news, a tragic outcome that is quickly overlooked.

Terrace House, the show on which Kimura featured for a number of months, was a milder version of Big Brother. Living in a luxury house somewhere in Japan, six members live together whilst navigating romance, friendships and their everyday lives as they are watched and judged by a panel of comedians who voice their views on the members. Along with the panel, the audience make their own judgements about each new young person who arrives. The mellow behaviours, shyness and inexperience of the members is often slow and frustrating but the added suspense of whether someone will make a move is enough to keep viewers enticed over a period of about a year. Subsequent to an argument with another member in the house, the twenty-two-year-old became subject to cyber-bullying and name calling. Much of this was of sexist and racist nature from Japanese fans, her mixed Indonesian-Japanese heritage drew much attention and is symbolic of the way that people with mixed ancestry are often unfairly discriminated against in a society which still idolises homogeneity and holds a romanticised view of Caucasian people.

Earlier this year, Caroline Flack, host of the popular reality show Love Island, committed suicide. She was the third person associated with the programme to do so, after two previous contestants had also sadly died this way. Controversy ensued after many called to cancel Love Island following statements that throughout the show and after it airs, contestants are given inadequate mental health and emotional support. Gaining immediate traction, a petition for ‘Caroline’s Law’ which would protect celebrities from cyber-bullying and online harassment achieved 500,000 signatures in under a week. Explaining that these reality shows are centred around the constant emotional stress and conflict that contestants experience, psychologists argue that these programmes are detrimental to mental health as people are under constant scrutiny from each other and the public. Terrace House and Love Island are now both internationally available, reaching immeasurable audiences and consequently, exposing young people to unlimited judgement.

Hana Kimura, Terrace House member and pro-wrestler

Indicative of our human nature to gossip, reality shows allow the public to satisfy our need of seeing into other people’s lives. With the ceaseless use of social media, this perpetuates our ability to discuss as well as criticise the people in the public eye. Worse still, the impacts of the show do not stop with the airing of the last episode. Contestants are thrown into the world of influencers, promotions and endless sharing of their most intimate moments. While they do go on to become successful and seemingly content with their celebrity status, this comes at a cost of unprotected exposure to cyber bullying and hate. For some, this is too much to handle and the mental health issues and tragic suicides of reality TV stars is a growing concern for those in the spotlight. Becoming prominent in the 1990s with the release of Big Brother, reality TV is perhaps too young of a genre to have adequate support in place for its participants.

There is no denying that reality TV also has positive qualities. Terrace House captured the hearts of a western audience as it offers a wholly different approach to reality TV. Japanese men defy western masculine stereotypes by showing that they can show emotion without lessening their masculinity. Moreover, the international cast highlights a slowly changing attitude toward foreign citizens in Japan. Cast members criticise each other’s outdated views, offensive jokes and offer impassioned support for their latest ventures. In a moving sequence of events, youngest cast member Ruka Nishikori, who entered the house being unable to even cook pasta, 'graduated' after making a moving speech in English in which he thanked his housemates for helping him to grow into adulthood.

Earning favourable reviews for its comedy, Terrace House offers a seemingly wholesome glimpse into a distant society. However, with the heart-breaking suicide of Hana Kimura, as well as the Love Island contestants, it is imperative to question whether there is still a place for reality TV in a society which continues to allow the harassment and bullying of its celebrities. If there is a way forward, it must be one of heightened restrictions on online comments and a more positive perspective on the mainly young people involved in this genre of television.

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