The pain of struggle can be very different for everyone, whether it be psychological, emotional or physical. To go through struggle or see someone we care about go through a crisis of struggle can be painful. We often try to cover our own struggle with laughter, it can be easier to laugh off falling over rather than focusing on the pain and embarrassment. A sense of humour allows us to cope with to pretend that we are not bothered by struggle. However, we as humans are not always as empathetic as we seem. If we were to witness another falling over, often our knee-jerk reaction is to laugh before we our assistance. Why do we enjoy watching others struggle? A complex question as human beings are quite complex themselves. A term used to describe enjoying another’s pain or struggle is schadenfreude.
To feed our appetite of watching suffering, our media has seemed to have the answer for this and we simply call it, reality television.
Reality TV is the mostly non-scripted capturing of everyday people in unique situations. Everyday people trying to earn recognition or redemption. Reality TV formats often use competitions in hopes to win a prize. The early 2000’s is where we saw a real boom in our reality TV consumption. The TV program big brother solely focused on a group of large personality strangers being held in some would call captivity with no contact to the outside world. This kind of isolation from the real world leads to chaotic behaviour from the housemates and induces conflict between them, all to the enjoyment of the audience watching. The show is designed to test them to their limits and while they have nothing to but dwell on their emotions, the meltdowns begin to appear. These types of reality show commonly have a ‘diary room’ or some form of private space. A safe place for the contestants to spill out their deepest thoughts, however this acts as a portal for the audience to get an insight of how they are suffering. The question of empathy is often raised with watching and creating these reality shows. Is it a reflection of how morally depraved we are?
Dr. Bruce Weinstein, who writes an ethics column for Bloomberg, says “if people didn’t want to invade people’s privacy, nobody would watch these shows.”
The key element for most reality shows is survival. Survival is that state of existing and struggling through times of difficulty. The show ‘Survivor’ literally depicts this, hence the name, of people competing in physically enduring challenges with little or no food, eliminating each other off in hopes to be the final survivor and be rewarded for their suffering.
The recent hit show ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’ in Australia has been a ratings success mainly to the fact that audiences enjoy watching the suffering. The suffering of these, well D grade celebrities give us a sense of power to watch these people who live privileged lives endure absolute torture. The suffering in this show isn’t what you’d usually expect in daily life, such as being trapped in a water tank with snakes and crocodiles or having to each an animal testicle of some sort. It is totally degrading but we love it. It gives the viewer a sense of pleasure and to the sufferer a sense of redemption that now they been suffered as we feel we do every day in our lives from minuscule things they’ve now earned our empathy.
The idea to take away from suffering, even in the form of reality shows is that suffering provides character growth and that growth ensures our survival until the next suffering.