It’s no big hidden secret or surprise that when it comes to choosing between voting in the general election or for your favourite couple on Love Island that a vast majority of voters in society would prefer to do the latter. In 2004 alone, 6,363,325 votes were cast for the live final of Big Brother season 5– a trend which has only been increasing with the swelling broth of reality TV series. So why is it that young people, especially, are more likely to vote for their favourite celeb than on the political future of their country?
Well, it’s quite simple really.
Relativity and ‘relatability’ are the fundamental ingredients for fostering any type of connection with another human being, let alone in trying to sell a product or a service. If there’s one thing that reality TV does so well is to rope viewers in with the illusion that they are gaining an exclusive insight into the ‘realities’ of famous people. When we get that heavily edited sneak peak into our favourite celebrities’ lives, what do we see? Well, nothing much more than the fact that even rich people have their mundane problems. Whether it’s romantic drama, drug-addiction, or family related episodes, seeing these prominent figures and role models going through the same universal, everyday struggles that everyone goes through– rich or poor– temporarily boots them off the pedestal that both we and society have placed them on and makes them more ‘human’ in our eyes. We root for them because we’ve shared a similar experience and we can relate.
In 2008, 14 yr old George Sampson was the winner of Britain’s Got Talent. He was the favourite to win from the off-set, with a touching backstory of a young boy, from a low socio-economic background, suffering with Scheuermann’s disease and still busking in the streets of Manchester to help raise money to support his mother. From the beginning, a lot of emphasis was placed on George’s background, and the fact that he claimed he would pay his mother’s mortgage if he won the £100,000 prize congealed the public’s support and attachment to George as the season progressed. George’s talent, along with the typical story of a young boy trying to build a better life for himself, and a single mother with a mortgage was relatable enough to secure his victory.
Now looking back to the recent general election, quite a lot of people were surprised by the gains that the Labour party made under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and most of the non-Labour supporters were even confused. How did he manage to get as many votes as he did when Labour has been lagging behind the Conservatives for years now? How did he manage to engage so many naturally ‘uninterested’ young people in politics? Whether you hate him or love him, the answer to the (not so very secret) secret is that he is relatable. He is a no-frills, rough and gruff politician who doesn’t hide behind fancy private school vocab or a clean shaven beard. He is one of the underdogs, and because of that people can relate to him and can sympathise with his ‘struggle’ and cause as their own: In effect, they want him to succeed because he represents the working class and our struggles.
2) Text messaging voting
Now I’m not saying that political elections should have to succumb to social media and the technological hype we are currently living in, but it is nevertheless a fact that we are living in a growingly technology-dependent era, with each generation that comes having an even more distant biological memory of the internet dial-up tone. This unfortunately has its downside and the reality is that people who are used to clicking a button to share their thoughts and express their votes, might find it rather tedious and ‘inconvenient’ to have to use a pen to tick a box instead. Reality TV and talent show voting works so well because people don’t have to go out of their way to vote. From the comfort of their very own beds and only with the touch of a couple of buttons they can exercise their democratic rights.
3) No one really wants to take responsibility
Us human beings really like to play the game of delegating responsibility, especially when it comes to taking responsibility for ‘bad’ decisions and outcomes. As much as we may think that we are grown up, accountable adults, I think everyone has a phobia (even if it’s just a slight one) of taking responsibility. It is much easier to place the blame on everyone else BUT yourself when things don’t go to plan. Politics is no different– in fact you’d be surprise how many times I’ve overheard casual conversations on the tube or buses of people complaining about the ‘messy’ political situation in the UK at the moment, and how many of these conversations were concluded along the lines of “oh well, I didn’t vote anyway.” I have to admit, I too have been guilty of being too quick to point my finger and blame the tory voters for the big pickle we’re in at the moment (with Brexit, increasing pension age, increasing inheritance tax, increasing university fees, nhs, disablity and education cuts and whatever else the Conservatives are responsible for) and ironically, even blaming the non-voters for not honouring their responsibilities, which they have as citizens of this country. I guess it just goes to show, everyone wants the piece of cake but no one wants to bake it.
4) Too much jargon and not enough transparency
Politics is one of the most convoluted social arenas– which of course the media doesn’t aid one bit. The EU referendum demonstrated this more than anything, with the big fat £350bn NHS lie being shoved in people’s faces and 100 others propped up behind it. Whether it’s the flamboyant polish of campaigns or politicians’ dribbling falsehoods spewing out of their mouths, politics has become about talking about everything but the actual problems. It is sadly not shocking that after the EU referendum, the second top Google UK search was: what is the EU? If this doesn’t demonstrate the dire prevalence of political illiteracy in the UK, I don’t know what does. We can scrap the culpable assumption that youths are simply ‘not interested’ in politics and start asking whether they– along with many others– actually even understand it.
5) Nothing ever changes
One of the biggest reasons why I think individuals don’t vote during important political changes is because they have lost hope that anything will ever truly change. The effect of this is that it gives rise to extreme parties, individuals and ideologies which of course propose a much more severe and immediate change– just look at Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen’s campaigns. Regardless of age, I’ve spoken to friends and family members that have expressed either their disillusionment with the ‘democratic’ system or simply won’t vote because they feel that their voice will not be heard. It becomes very easy to see then how the satisfaction appeal of voting for a reality TV shows has a higher gratification return, when each week you’re able to see a direct result and impact because of your vote: either your vote secures a place for favourite celeb or it doesn’t. This sense of fulfilment is apparently so great that people don’t even mind paying to vote because they know at the very least, something will actually change, which I guess is more than we can say for the political elections and referendums we’ve had recently.