“Reality TV, broadly speaking, it’s junk food.”
That was a remark that grabbed my attention while listening to the Behind the Bastards podcast episode about nothing other than my favourite pastime, reality TV.
It’s not a completely new thought—that reality TV can be compared to a food type that is enjoyable but often looked down on, or shamed, even.
Reality TV is certainly something I consume for pleasure and not for substance, but this remark on this podcast at this time spoke to me because I know for the next couple of months, I will be indulging in a hell of a lot of junk food.
Of course, that is because the time is officially upon us, Love Island season is not only here, it is in full swing.
For the next seven weeks I, among many others, will obsess over what’s happening in Mallorca, Spain, as the 8th season of the British series unfolds.
On July 19, Love Island USA will also be gracing our screens and fuelling the reality dating show addiction.
It will be weeks of non-stop drama and intrigue that will have zero effect on my life but will thrill my need for entertainment. But more than my need for entertainment, it will fulfill my need to run away from all that takes up space in my real life lately.
It’s funny to think about the days when I used to reject the concept of reality TV shows— especially the dating-based shows. For some reason, I used to feel as if I would never choose a show like Love Island to fill my time. I was one of those people that thought my taste was too refined for reality TV. I used to wonder what kind of quality entertainment others found in shows like Love Island or the Bachelor franchise.
I was someone who always described my favourite show to be the Emmy-award-winning Mad Men, so how could I possibly stoop to such a level?
I look back and roll my eyes at that version of myself. Who did I think I was?
But at the beginning of the pandemic, I found myself gravitating toward Love Island. The winter season had wrapped up merely a month or so before the pandemic started and a friend of mine had turned to the show for the first time and recommended I also give it a try.
I recall not wanting to give the show much attention and initially tried to look at it as a show that was nothing more than background noise. But once I saw those islanders start chatting, grafting and making everything messy, I was hooked. At a time when we didn't know what was happening and while I was still trying to wrap up a Master’s degree and not cry about my future, Love Island distracted me from all of the anxiety in the world.
I quickly realized shows like Love Island were not beneath me, but that they were able to offer so much more than I gave them credit for.
Nowadays I wait for each new Love Island season—my eyes widen and my heart jumps when I know Temptation Island has dropped a new season, the same is to be said for any of the wildly-constructed Netflix dating shows.
These distractions have become absolutely necessary for me. It’s a moment away from my daily work and from my side projects that can feel so all-encompassing. It can even be a moment for me when I don’t particularly feel like being social.
It’s also important now, when the news cycle feels like it’s not going to slow down. For months upon months we have been experiencing tragedy after tragedy. There have been invasions, school shootings, hate crimes and the death of influential figures— all things that we have mourned collectively and been plugged into.
Rather than logging in to Twitter to constantly engage with the heavy news cycle, it can feel easier on the heart to gravitate towards a community of people that are also trying to escape from the real world, even if just for one hour of reality TV madness.
While I’m not able to watch UK Love Island in real-time, it has become something sweet at the end of the day that I love indulging in.
Many might say, “hey Monika, why not use that time to watch one of a billion new drama series coming out on one of the billions of streaming services?”
The answer is simple: because sometimes all I want is something simple and brain numbing. Sometimes at the end of the day, the easier, less thought-provoking shows like Love Island are simply what will serve my brain and sanity.
The answer is simple for me, sometimes I don’t want to engage in content that requires too much detective work or that also displays heavy content. Euphoria was a show that I watched slowly and even though I regard the show as entertainment, the content was something I had to be mindful of and I would have to usually follow it up with an episode of Schitt's Creek to cleanse my palette.
We need balance in our lives. We need to be able to watch things that are pure entertainment and to be able to disengage with other parts of life. Without that escapism, we cannot continue to be critical thinkers to the best of our ability. If all we consume is the heavy news cycle and intense programming, when are we supposed to step back and breathe? In my experience, those moments of stepping back and breathing while watching couples fight over each other are necessary moments of rest and recharge for me.
Sometimes the overabundance of shows that make us think critically just isn’t the vibe. It can just be fun to watch young hot people decide who best matches their type on paper.
Let’s be real, sometimes it’s much easier to admit that you enjoy junk food and eat whatever you want.
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