Entertainment means different things to different people. It could mean a comedy show with mindless sexist jokes to one, while saas-bahu sob-stories or insightful documentaries for others. But lately, schadenfreude has emerged as one of the most favoured categories, with viewers deriving pleasure (and entertainment) from other people’s misery. Angry outbursts, physical assaults, emotional breakdowns; and no, I am not referring to YouTube videos here. This is mainstream entertainment, where raw human emotions, mostly the toxic kind, are peddled to attract viewership. But just what fascinates us so much about toxic entertainment? Why can’t we keep our eyes off the television screen when people scream at each other, bawl or even get into full-fledged physical fights? Also, how much toxicity is too much? Where does one draw the line?

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Toxic content has emerged as the audience’s favourite in recent years when it comes to small screen entertainment.
  • A recent clip from a popular reality TV show shows one contestant physically assaulting another.
  • Where does one draw the line with toxic entertainment?
  • Why are we okay with blatant physical assault and verbal abuse being catered to us in the name of entertainment?

Why can’t we keep our eyes off the television screen when people scream at each other, bawl or even get into full-fledged physical fights? Also, how much toxicity is too much? Where does one draw the line?

A recent video clip from a popular reality show, currently being telecasted, is doing rounds on social media. In this clip, a male contestant can be seen pinning a female contestant to the ground and twisting her hands while she howls. But this isn’t the most alarming part about what is clearly an incident of physical abuse. Fans of the contestant in question are defending his actions, amidst calls for his ouster from the show. But we didn’t get to this point overnight, where abuse gets passed off as entertainment. Crying, pushing, shoving, insulting and shouting at the top of your lungs and manipulating fellow contestants; these gimmicks have been part and parcel of the blueprint of many reality shows in our country.

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And why just reality, aren’t we consuming visuals on similar lines in our fiction shows as well? Are saas-bahu serials with their unending tales of scheming, shouting and occasional bursts of slaps not toxic entertainment? The reason why reality television shows bother or fascinate us more, is that when it comes to fiction, we know that this is not real and that it is scripted entertainment. And while many claim that the same can be said for reality television shows, seeing real people unravel, tingles a primitive part of our brain, the one which makes slipping-on-a-banana-peel kind of incidents funny to some people.

Both women and men are subjected to humiliation and verbal and physical assault in such shows and instead of raising questions on doling of violence and abuse in the name of entertainment, the audience is busy defending the contestant that they back. Every shouting match that fascinated us, every verbal assault or shove and push that kept us from changing that channel then, is responsible for what we witness on our small screens today.

The steep rise in the toxic nature of the content should make us question this supply and demand cycle. When will I stop watching a reality show that serves abuse? Where is my threshold?

But who is responsible for drawing a line here? The show-runners, who only cater to the audiences’ demands? Or the viewers, whose threshold for “shocking” content is going up every year? Also, would toning down the toxic content amount to censorship? There are a lot of people who defend the depiction of violence against women on-screen, alleging that if a viewer simply disapproves of a certain kind of content, they shouldn’t consume it and that policing what everyone gets to watch is unfair.

But such an argument would have been valid if we were living in an ideal world, where the audience knew how to separate fact from fiction. Also, the steep rise in the toxic  content should make us question this supply and demand cycle. When will I stop watching a reality show that serves abuse? Where is my personal threshold? What can this trend escalate into if we keep demanding more aggressive entertainment? It is pinning down a contestant to the floor today, what’s it going to be tomorrow? Or in the season after that?

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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