Earlier this morning in Istanbul, Turkey nine women were rescued from a fake reality show set where they had been held captive for two months. The women each responded to an ad for a new season of the Turkish version of Big Brother, and signed contracts stipulating that they would live together in a villa and be forced to pay a hefty fine if they wanted to leave early.
Now, there are a million things that are f@#%ed up about this story. These women were held captive against their will and threatened when they tried to leave without paying a fine to their captors. They were told to wear bikinis and "fight" with one another by the pool, while four men filmed them. They were on camera 24/7, even while changing. They weren't allowed contact with the outside world, not even with family members. However, the worst thing about this awful situation is that it is disturbing because the footage was not aired on national television.
Think about it. If this exact same scenario had played out with the footage being aired as a reality television show, no one would think twice about it. We have officially reached the point where just about anything goes, as long as it will be viewed by millions of people. (In this particular situation, the footage was aired only online, though the women were told it would be aired on TV.) Take the cameras away, and this is an incredibly upsetting kidnapping story. Bring the cameras back, and it's good television.
There has been a bit of conversation going on in the media lately about the potential dangers of the reality TV format. When reality contestant Ryan Alexander Jenkins was found dead after murdering his wife last month, questions arose surrounding background checks and personality profiling. (Turns out reality shows don't do much in the way of weeding out psycho murderers.) This questioning is a good thing, obviously. No one wants dangerous people getting paid to run around in a VH1-funded mansion getting drunk and getting in fights; we'd prefer to save that opportunity for safe people. Right?
Now I must inject a bit of personal bias here: I love reality television. A big part of the reason that I am so upset by these Turkish women being held captive is that had this been a real show I probably would have watched it. I watched For the Love of Ray J, for Pete's sake. This story is forcing me (and maybe other reality TV voyeurs as well) to realize that, were they not televised, a lot of the shows I watch have criminal (or at least highly suspect) elements to them. If the cameras had been fake on Real Chance of Love, that show's scenario would have boiled down to two brothers cajoling women into having sex with them and pretending to like it. Creepy at least, and probably criminal. Charm School? Same thing. Rock of Love Bus? Sure.
We as a culture of reality television viewers have basically created a space wherein not only will women (and men) readily sign up to live in a villa and fight each other in bikinis, but it's only a problem if it isn't aired on television. So who are the real criminals here? Who is guilty of kidnapping these women? Sure, the dudes who did it are obviously guilty. But don't I, as a closet reality TV watcher, share in the blame? Don't we all?