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Iceni Magazine | January 19, 2020

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Ed Balls and Our Obsession with Reality

Norwich Christmas lights 2013

On November 17th, when he stepped on stage in front of the Norwich City Hall to switch on the fine city’s lights, former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls was not only applauded for his political career or even his Chairman position at Norwich FC. Let’s face it: much of the crowd’s enthusiasm was due to his recent appearances on Strictly Come Dancing.

Ed Balls may have – together with his dance partner, Katya Jones – only reached week 10 in the popular reality programme. They may have received a bunch of low scores, but they were still saved by the viewers. It was the politician’s enthusiasm and drive made him popular with audiences nationwide. His departure from the show on the 28th of November, saw 10.6 million viewers tune in. Words of support were tweeted by fans, including David Cameron:

We have to admit that the Norwich-born (and bred) politician’s current appeal has a lot to do with his choice to be part of the BBC One reality show. And that is not necessarily a bad thing: Strictly gave us a chance to see a more approachable, less serious but certainly passionate side to Balls. A more human side. After all, especially with politicians, we are usually only exposed to the more solemn elements of their character through traditional media.

So we respond well to reality television and its stars. According to the Broadcasters Audience Research Board, the most popular television genre in the past half-decade is entertainment television, with a 17.9% share of the audience in 2015 – which of course encompasses the narrow as well as the wider range of reality television.

In fact, we live in a reality-obsessed culture, and that doesn’t only go for The Great British Bake-off (let’s not forget Ed Balls’ Ski Jump cake for The Great Sport Relief Bake Off either!), Geordie Shore or The Voice. Nowhere is our quite recent but intense wish to share our private lives with the world as well as peek into others’ lives more apparent than online. There are now an estimated 2.34 billion regular social media users all over the globe, according to eMarketer. Across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the rest of the social media hubs, billions of people choose to share parts of their real lives, their opinions and passions with others, often with complete strangers.

Further proof of how much we value realism is the way we play video games. Smooth, realistic graphics and natural character movement are two of the top expectations gamers have of new games. Still in the realm of gaming, a popular offering by online casinos is the live casino option. Casino game providers such as William Hill Live Casino connect players to real dealers in real time. Sophisticated RFID chip and live streaming technology allows the player to feel like they are sitting at a casino table in Macau or Las Vegas. In the case of virtual reality, it’s more than clear that the public’s eagerness to embrace this emerging technology is largely thanks to its ability to portray different realities. Plus, there’s also augmented reality (AR), a term made more popular by this summer’s hit title Pokemon Go and certain to feature in video games in the future.

In all, it is impossible to deny our fixation with reality. Even when it’s not in the form of the reality genre on the telly, the modern public’s eagerness to embrace the real and the realistic is undeniable. In some cases, like Ed Ball’s, reality introduces us to different sides of people’s personalities. In others, it can have a variety of complicated effects, sometimes even negative. One thing is for sure: everyone appreciated Ed Balls’ dance to Gangnam Style, even if it was for different reasons.

Article By Sam Burton

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