A show that helps young talented candidates rise into fame. A show that supplies the tools needed to become an ‘artist’. A show that provides a 24/7 reality TV station so viewers can witness the transitions these people go through, and not only love their talents, but also their characters. It all looks good, until one wonders, does the word ‘show’ really go with ‘reality’? Can a company (obviously wanting to generate profit) be trusted in producing ‘artists’? Or will some drama be triggered as to attract more viewers? The latter seems to be what’s happening.
With more than 5 million fans around the Middle East, Star Academy 10 launched last month, and despite being more than 10 years old, it still proves to be a popular show demanded by millions. In this piece, I explore the negatives of reality TV, especially in the Arab World, and the effects it might hold on those in front of the cameras.
Let’s get right into it. We live in conservative societies. In most of our countries, a female’s reputation is all she has, and once it’s publically shamed, suffering begins and in no way she can be looked at as an ‘idol’. A male is in no better position; a male can be shamed if he acts too emotionally or too rigidly. One cannot put 10 males and 10 females in one house and expect them to conform to social boundaries. Imagine yourself living under one roof with the same people, after a month or two, you will be forced to display actions, which might not be acceptable to some, but which will be completely appropriate to those who live it. For example, she (X) misses her parents and her home. She starts crying. He (Y), who has been living with her for more than 90 continuous days, now hugs her trying to comfort her. The hug may be completely brotherly, with no intention but to act as a friend. That is what happens in front of the camera, but that is not what’s usually translated to those behind TV screens. The next day, tabloids and YouTube channels release news pieces or footages with titles like: ‘Relationship begins between X and Y’ or ‘Watch Y trying to physically touch slutty X’. Production companies are not dumb, they know it’s this juice which people like the most and see viewers’ interest in X and Y, hence increasing the focus on them, putting them in situations where they need to be close. Cameras start focusing on their every move, every gesture they make towards each other, and every eye contact. I have myself searched through YouTube, and some footages with couples sitting alone gain more than 2 million views, while others, of individuals signing, gain no more than 10,000 views. X and Y may leave the show and enter the real world with no clue of what has happened nor of the ways the show got advantage of their bond. Some families may not mind, but others might, and with the pressure of harsh judgmental communities, these people may not be able to handle being in that spectrum of the public eye.
An example is the case of a student in one of the seasons. After colleagues of his, completely negligent to the fact cameras are all around, gossiped about his ‘strange’ behavior and talked about his sexual orientation. He was a powerful popular participant who was going to win the title and it was obvious that due to competitive jealousy, some thought that spreading these kinds of rumors would be ‘fun’. In the Middle East, one’s sexual orientation cannot be considered a ‘normal’ issue, and even though the talks were only gossip and free of any truth, the show itself should not have released these footages, as it must know the implications it would cause him and his family. His sister called him and told him to leave the show as his dad is ill (he was not, but they could not disclose to him what was happening in the outside world on air), and so he quit. This is an example of a young man, aspirational and completely determined to reach his goal, but was prevented. Yes the inappropriate discriminatory social boundaries played a part, but the show, which puts profit generation goals above morality and respect towards these people and their families, should also be accountable for his departure and possible emotional distress.
Psychology maintains that not one single human being can keep on acting for more than 24 hours, and the real personality prevails eventually. How will then a true character appear when 4 walls and the same people confine it? Participants will, with no doubt, reveal their attitudes which may not seem sensible to the normal viewer but will completely be normal when the situations these people are put in are lived. It is well known, that under stress, frustration and anger will prevail over sweetness and smiles.
It is true that Star Academy opens a door for social and political change. It introduces cultures to each other, reflects a more inclusive society: one, which features women as equal men, and threatens the appalling restrictions of a ‘conservative’ society. I have no problem with Star Academy as a show, which interrelates cultures and releases talents, but they have to admit that the dramas, the gossip, the catfights, are the main profit generation pathways. Hence, a fine line should be drawn between harmless drama and life ruining footages that will always be there for the world to see.