Snap back to reality
Trash TV is just as cool as the epic fantasies and period dramas everyone is bingeing. Stay strong, view on
Pune rapper MC Stan is only 23. Born Altaf Tadvi to a poor family, has been rapping since he was in school. He’s two albums old. He is, as his stage name suggests, a fan of Eminem. But so is the majority of Indian rappers.
This month, around 541,000 people watched his Instagram live, setting a record on the platform for an Indian celebrity. He’s had more viewers than Shah Rukh Khan, who managed around 255,000 views for his live session. More than 9 million people follow him on Instagram. MC Stan is also the winner of the 16th edition of Bigg Boss. That should shut up anyone who still insists that reality TV is inconsequential white noise.
Fans of trash TV often get a bad rap. Those who follow the genre end up defending it as a guilty pleasure, when there’s nothing to feel guilty about. They laugh it off: “Ha ha. I just watch it because I can’t believe how dumb some people can be”. That needs to stop. Here’s why.
Watching reality TV doesn’t mean someone is stupid. On the contrary, with the way media consumption has changed, the way people form opinions has too. Sure, it’s designed for easy digestion and edited to extract maximum drama. But underneath all the fluff, it forces viewers to take sides, and people often end up on the side of someone outside their own bubble. Remember the ‘How Can She Slap?’ outtake from Dadagiri: Beat The Bullies, which became an online sensation in 2009? Remember the public chatter over a contestant who was slapped by a woman and slapped her in return? Remember how it shook everyone’s ideas of equality and empowerment? Reality TV did that, not your everyday sociology textbook.
Everyone deserves an escape. If someone’s poison is The Witcher or whatever Aaron Sorkin has created for TV, that’s great. But sometimes it’s easier to get involved in real people’s drama, romance, break-ups and fights. What else do people discuss around the watercooler (or is it Zoom meetings now?) the next day? Take Lauren and Cameron, contestants who participated in Love Is Blind’s debut season, which was shot in 2019 but aired February 2020. They hadn’t actually seen each other until their engagement, met on the first day of filming and instantly hit it off. Viewers rooted for them all through. They celebrated their third wedding anniversary in November 2021.
Reality TV is a great leveller. We tend to put people on screen on a pedestal – hold them up as an aspiration. Reality TV pulls them down a notch, humanises them. Case in point: The Kardashians. From an early 2010s reality TV show to clothing lines, brand deals and endorsements, modelling careers, make-up lines and much, much more, their documentary-style show has followed them through it all. It’s also given the world an insider’s PoV of how much a celebrity can share and still keep secrets (like the transformation of Caitlyn Jenner).
There’s more representation on Reality TV. The inclusivity is not just in terms of the shows themselves, but the people they feature. There are ghost whisperers (Hollywood Medium), fabulous drag queens (RuPaul’s Drag Race), business and entrepreneurship (Shark Tank India), ultra-expensive real-estate (Selling Sunset), dance (Dance India Dance, Jhalak Dikhla Jaa), and weddings that feature every colour of the LGBTQ+ rainbow (The Big Day, Indian Matchmaking). Those who have watched Queer Eye, know exactly how a show can help right the world. Those that have followed India’s Got Talent, l know how contestants from any background have a shot at fame.
It’s foolproof. You know what to expect with any edition of MasterChef. You shout at the TV when you know the answer to a KBC question. You go on a cleaning spree after Marie Kondo makes it look so easy. And most of all, you support people like MC Stan, who follow their dreams, because it makes you believe that you can do it, too.
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From HT Brunch, February 25, 2023
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