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The Reality of Reality TV

Reality television is a genre that documents supposedly unscripted real-life situations and star largely unknown individuals. The genre came to prominence in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with shows going on to become global franchises.

The popularity and mass appeal helped captivate a wide audience. Teenagers emulated behaviours and gathered much of their knowledge of the social world through such programmes, whilst older viewers used it as a gripping pastime and a conversation topic for office gossip. This alone raises alarm bells from an Islamic outlook.

With recent high-profile suicides bringing the genre into mainstream attention, it is important to understand the wider implications pertaining to the genre. The article has detailed five areas which require attention and acknowledgement.

Encouraging Gossip

The very nature of reality television is gazing into another individual’s life for entertainment. This viewing can then become the topic of discussion, be it in playgrounds, universities, or offices, and help encourage and normalise gossip.

“The fact that such a high proportion of children and teens are interested in reality shows just goes to show how popular peering into other people’s lives is amongst young people.” [1]

Such behaviour increases the likelihood of falling into the major sin of backbiting. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) warned us vehemently against this and likened the sin to eating the flesh of a dead brother in Sūrat al-Ḥujurāt:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ تَوَّابٌ رَّحِيمٌ

“O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allāh; indeed, Allāh is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.” [2]

Lowering the Gaze and Perception of Relationships

We are already amidst a hypersexualised society and reality television does nothing but exacerbate the problem.

With a high percentage of the body exposed for viewership, it encourages individuals to betray Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā)’s instructions of lowering one’s gaze. [3]

The shows are often centred around dating and promote promiscuity. Children are exposed to disposable relationships’ and view this as a social norm, whilst adults are unwilling and unable to commit to long-term marital relationships, both of which create a broken society.

It is, therefore, no surprise that the number of marriages between men and women in England and Wales is at record lows. The concept of “freedom to live happily together out of wedlock” and a change in “relationship goals” [4] has been cited as factors contributing to the record low.

As with the first point, normalising such an attitude and engaging in such actions heightens the risk of falling into another major sin, zināʾ (fornication, adultery).

Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), again, warned against such an action is Sūrat al-Isrā’:

وَلاَ تَقْرَبُواْ الزِّنَى إِنَّهُ كَانَ فَاحِشَةً وَسَاء سَبِيلاً

And do not approach unlawful sexual intercourse (zināʾ). Indeed, it is ever an immorality and is evil as a way.” [5]

Role Models and Aspirations

Spending a significant time on anything will influence an individual. It is then no surprise that as the viewing of reality content increases, as does its influence on individuals’ behaviours and consumer practices. An increasing number of brands and retailers are consequently teaming up with the genre’s participants in a bid to capitalise.

Viewers are beginning to take such individuals as role models, imitating and aspiring to be in their shoes. Teenagers are especially infatuated by the celebrity image and are lured by instant fame. Aspirations are shifting from education and careers to appearing on TV and glossy magazines.

In June 2018, it was reported that more young people applied to appear on a season of a particular reality show than applied to either Oxford or Cambridge. [6] 

Mental Health

The mental health implications for participants in reality television shows is harrowingly evident. 38 individuals around the world are suspected to have committed suicide following links to such programmes. [7] In the UK, a popular show was recently taken off air following a suicide, with the host summoned by MPs to discuss the treatment of the show’s guests. [8]

As distressing as these facts are, it is important to note that mental health implications are not limited to the participants alone; the viewers also suffer.

 “People have a perception of me that I’m a classic lad and a love rat because I stay in shape and I’m a model…” [6]

This not only gives a feeling of insecurity about one’s own body image, but it also encourages the exposure of the body beyond the limits that Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has set, both for men and women.

Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has very specifically commanded both his male and female slaves to observe the ḥijāb in a manner that is befitting to the concept of modesty in Islām. Transgressing these limits will only earn the displeasure of our Lord.

Changing Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā)’s Creation

Several contestants appearing on reality shows have undergone vanity alterations through cosmetic surgery. Such pressures on self-appearance have only compounded insecurities for individuals. These insecurities have escalated from emotional self-doubt to cosmetic surgery, with the former still present.

“Reality TV shows like Love Island have “normalised” non-surgical cosmetic procedures and the desire to look good in selfies is driving more under-35s to have them, according to the American Association of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.” [9]

The trend is growing, and several companies are profiteering off self-doubt. Only recently, a national health and beauty retailer has extended its controversial Botox and lip filler services to a second store in the UK. [10]

Supposed ‘healthcare’ companies are pushing an agenda to alter societal views around aesthetic surgery, from a medical procedure with associated risks, to something very trivial.

There has been no shortage of concerns voiced by medical professionals. They have expressed their unease towards the popularity of procedures and warned businesses about their duty of care.

According to NHS England’s medical director, Profession Stephen Powis:

“We know that appearance is one of the things that matters most to young people, and the bombardment of idealised images and availability of quick-fix procedures is helping fuel a mental-health and anxiety epidemic.” [10]

Professor Powis added that “all parts of society” need to “show a duty of care and take action to prevent avoidable harm.” [11]

Whilst this is specific to the UK, we must acknowledge the rise in cosmetic procedures is a global issue. Notably, it is not limited to the West. Procedures are becoming ever popular in predominantly Muslim-majority countries. Western influences and the pressure to look good on social media has fuelled the popularity.

“Whether for rhinoplasty in Beirut, breast augmentation in Dubai or tummy tucks in Turkey, surgeons across the region say that Saudi Arabia represents one of their biggest markets for overseas clients. 

This is driven by the decreasing cultural stigma of aesthetic enhancements among Saudi women, while Instagram selfies are leading to a rise among millennials, they say…” [12]

Cosmetic procedures for the purpose of beautification is deemed impermissible in Islām. This is due to changing the creation of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and tinkering according to people’s whims and desires.

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) cursed women who pluck eyebrows, those who have their eyebrows plucked, those who fix hair extensions, those who have hair extensions done, those who do tattoos and those who have tattoos done, because that is done as an enhancement and is not done to remove faults. [13] Therefore, we should not fall into this trap.

Advice

Perhaps we as viewers or parents were oblivious to the aforementioned points and implications. The first step is to acknowledge the realities of the content we feed not only our eyes and ears but also our hearts and souls.

If we are in the viewers category, we should repent and ask Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) for His forgiveness. We should then correct our affairs by ceasing, or at the very least, reducing time spent on such material, with an aim of eventually ceasing.

If we are in the parents category, we must firstly lead by example, ensuring that we consume content, both in public and private, that upholds Islamic values. Secondly, we must monitor what our children are watching. It is important to place scrutiny on their media and entertainment consumption and limit certain content through education and consultation.

We ask Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) to safeguard us and our children. Āmīn.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] https://www.indy100.com/article/love-island-mental-health-anna-williamson-reality-TV-contestants-8470046

[2] Al-Qur’ān 49:12

[3] Al-Qur’ān 24:30-31

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/7b96f5d1-47af-44b5-a530-b70e5533324a

[5] Al-Qur’ān 17:32

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/TV-and-radio/2018/jul/18/problem-with-love-island-people-who-turned-it-down

[7] https://metro.co.uk/2019/03/24/38-people-died-suicide-finding-reality-tv-fame-stars-continue-mourn-mike-thalassitis-8996868/

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/jun/07/jeremy-kyle-called-to-face-mps-over-treatment-of-guests

[10] https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/superdrug-offering-botox-lip-fillers-16195000

[11] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-48066362

[12] http://www.arabnews.com/node/1442116/saudi-arabia

[13] Aḥmed

About Nashir ibn Hussain

Ibn Hussain is a university graduate and Big-4 trained chartered accountant, with a keen interest in commerce and strategic planning. He is a firm advocate of self-development, particularly through Islamic studies, and is a current student on the Sabeel Development Programme. Ibn Hussain enjoys writing and poetry, with a focus on current affairs. He hopes to become a future leader in his professional field and mentor individuals to have high aspirations without feeling the need to compromise the sacred dīn.

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