Do Reality TV Shows Have A Responsibility Over Their Participants?

Jeremy Kyle vs. Love Island?

The moment Steve Dymond’s suicide became public knowledge, ITV immediately axed The Jeremy Kyle Show. Dymond’s coroner stated that the show may have contributed to his mental state, with the tabloid talk show branding him as an unfaithful liar to his fiancée after a lie detector test. A week later, Dymond passed away from a morphine overdose. Yet on Twitter, adoring fans pushed for ITV to bring back this beloved show.

Many alluded to Love Island and the apparent hypocrisy of ITV to ramp up its production to twice a year, as the sheer scale of online attention from participating in the show has led to three suicides in just three years. Meanwhile, this is the first suicide in the ten years Jeremy Kyle has jeered at unstable families on national television. The inherently exploitative nature of reality television means contestants should proceed with caution; from producers manufacturing negative attention for participants (such as deliberately trying to portray Zara Holland as ‘boring’ on Love Island) to the use of inaccurate lie detectors as a means of creating conflict and tearing families apart on national television, there doesn’t appear to be a line they won’t cross.

Why Bother With Aftercare?

Aftercare is incredibly important to reality television because the wellbeing of the participants is not just collateral damage; they cannot just be cast aside when they are no longer convenient for producers. The process of ensuring psychological wellness before, during, and particularly after the show cannot be treated as optional, or dismissed as a chore that you can’t do “forever”, as Carolyn McCall (chief executive of ITV) stated when questioned on the idea of aftercare following the deaths of Love Island contestants Sophie Gradon and Mike Thassalitis.

She does have a point – it’s impossible to constantly ensure the wellbeing of every participant for months after the show. However, thorough psychological evaluations and social media managers are essential to save these new celebrities from online trolls and overzealous fans. The incomprehensible growth of social media and the digitalisation of an audience’s reception to a show means that a celebrity is constantly exposed to a cabal of people responding to a manipulated part of themselves, especially when we consider deliberate meddling by producers in both Love Island and the The Jeremy Kyle Show to reel in views.

But is this debate over aftercare necessary? Other reality shows and talent-scouting agencies have taken measures to minimise the psychological toll of overnight fame. Joanna Leeson’s Elevation PR is an all-female talent agency which has represented members of shows such as Geordie Shore, who have made a point of constantly checking in on their clients during and after their participation on the show.

Has It Been Done?

Gameshows like I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! have some network of aftercare and psychological observation, albeit not always to an adequate standard. Even Hell’s Kitchen performs a psychological evaluation on the contestants and gives them time to recover from the experience afterwards. Hell’s Kitchen also prohibits the use of phones and computers so they are free from social media all the way through the competition.

Despite variations in quality, clearly the idea of providing rehabilitation after a show isn’t all that controversial. So, what is it about The Jeremy Kyle Show and Love Island that draws in so much ferocity? Firstly, the implication that a show that you love is, to an extent, culpable for one or multiple suicides can feel like an unwarranted attack on something to which you have a sentimental attachment. Secondly, both shows are such a beloved part of British pop culture that valid criticism is harder to take seriously.

It may seem like a demand to coddle fully-grown adults when they should know what they’re getting into. It may seem like an infantilising process for people who have known about online trolls since primary school. But ultimately, the lives of the participants of a television are not expendable to producers or to audiences. Whether it is profitable or not, producers have a responsibility to look after their participants so that the tragedies from these two shows never happen again.

Words by Elizabeth Sorrell

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