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Why watching real-life TV is not a ‘guilty pleasure’

October 22, 2013

2013-05-31Something that self employment allows me to do is to watch TV at lunchtime.  I like to watch TV shows about real people living their real lives.  I do actually consider this to be work – although it is very enjoyable – but it is something that is really important to me.

I talk a lot in my work life and my personal life, with a lot of people, and people tell me about their lives.  Sometimes more than they expect to.  Because I’m interested, because I empathise, because I’m a trained listener, because I care.  All of my life I’ve been interested in people.  I’m interested in how people are the same, and different.  I’m interested in behaviour, and motivations.  I’m interested in what makes people as they are and how circumstances affect outcomes.  This has led me to a degree in sociology, and a career in research.  I now work primarily in the public and third sector because I think real people matter.  I have a strong sense of social justice and I wish the world was fair.  Through my work I’m out in the community talking to all sorts of people about all sorts of subjects.  Often they are vulnerable people, often they are people whose lives are nothing like my own.

For my friends, and for my work, I think it is of vital importance that I am educated and informed and open minded about the world.  I want to be able to listen with empathy and without bias and I don’t want to wade in uninformed and put my foot in it.  As a professional and ethical and personal choice I need to be able to get this right.

British TV does real-life TV really well and tends to present things in a way which is close to free from judgement (albeit sometimes with sensationalist titles).  I’ve seen some wonderful, detailed, authentic, sympathetic, touching and thoroughly enjoyable series recently including:

Some others are less balanced (recent examples include Big Fat Gypsy Weddings and Nick and Margaret: We all pay your benefits) and I do wonder if the subjects of the show have known quite what they were getting themselves into when they signed up.

But either way, these sorts of shows provide an interesting insight into the lives of real people.

I don’t know what it is like to go to a boarding school, or transition between genders, or flee persecution and seek asylum in a country where I don’t speak the language.  But through watching these shows I can learn just a little bit about what life outside my experience is really like.  I’m not laughing and pointing, I genuinely hope that I can be a better person for spending my time in this way.

I have in the past been on the receiving end of ridicule for admitting that I watch shows like this.

People think that watching real-life TV shows is low-brow TV, voyeurism, a guilty pleasure.  They think it is a dirty way to spend time.

Well, maybe it depends how you watch them?

Maybe that says more about them than it says about me?

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