Don’t Fight Crocodiles in a Swamp.

11 Nov

I’m sure I’m not alone in observing negative behavioural changes in society, online and in the media. What appears to be happening is that it’s getting more divided and extreme, and that voicing outrage and unleashing opinions, bitter criticism and malice towards others is becoming a new normal. What I would like to question is, are we unconsciously being encouraged or forced to accept bullying as normal rather than challenging systems that allow it?

Nearly every episode of the Block NZ 2019 was uncomfortable to watch, because of bullying, and at times triggered people with trauma, so I still feel compelled to write about it. Writing about it at the time would have been like fighting a crocodile in a swamp and I didn’t fancy myself being swallowed whole by those who thought the targets deserved it. The bullying was overt and mostly unchallenged, and we the viewers, whether we liked it or not, were put in a “bystander” position, powerless to stop it; which further perpetuates the acceptability of bullying and inevitably, yet again, it becomes even more embedded in our culture as the norm. 

It’s reality tv you might say. Why even watch it? Because along with thousands of home renovator fans, including children, the first six seasons prior to 2018 didn’t include bullying as a part of the shows entertainment value. I don’t like standing by without having a voice to challenge what I consider wrong doing, so my hope when I write about the dynamics at play is to raise awareness of the tactics used.

In reality, reality show contestants are not being adequately protected from becoming prey. The contestants are pre-determined by the shows producers and one has to consider whether the choices are specifically designed to generate conflict. Take Married at First Sight NZ 2019 as another example where the producers didn’t really take responsibility when they said “Duty of care for all participants in the experiment is paramount.” They went on to say “To have edited out the confronting behaviour from last night’s episode would be disingenuous to the characters of those on the show and would have left a lot of unanswered questions for fans.” Not a good enough explanation when there were literally dozens of times when a few of the contestants could have had their homophobic slurs, threats of violence, shaming, hateful language and bullying stopped. It could have been a perfect platform to use the experts to show that behaving in those ways shouldn’t be tolerated and that change is possible, but alas that may not have been so “entertaining.”

In real life it’s so much easier to sidestep bullies and maintain minimal contact with empathy deficient people. It’s easier to be cautious, to avoid, to be able to stay in a kind, distantly compassionate position towards those who lack empathy or fake empathy, but in social experiments designed to be thrilling and conflict filled, it’s unnatural and destructive.

Bullying tactics include manipulating as many people as possible, so as to portray the villains as the injured party. This means firstly getting other competitors on side and insidiously influencing everyone else from judges to viewers. Using provocation to elicit a response from their target, puts the target in a difficult position of either ignoring the provocation which allows it to worsen, or it forces them to counteract it. Both responses are lose/lose because the target is being watched like a hawk for any wrongful move so they can be falsely accused for character defects they don’t actually possess. Then comes the dehumanising, name calling and projections when the target stands up for, or defends themselves or their position. Apathy and indifference to their distress spreads, which the villains actually rely on, to gain allies and win at all costs.

A bully decides how to target and how, when, and where to harm people.

Production companies and executives need to held accountable. On tv, contestants are connected and interconnected with many people at any given moment. With a random mix of strangers, you might say it’s a coincidence, that there are bound to be a few able and willing to hurt others if given the chance. I don’t think so. I think they are well aware of how people are “likely” to behave and people are purposefully put in harms way, in a culture that allows bullying to flourish. We can choose to not be contestants, and we can choose to not watch the show, but the problem exists and targets are real people who have to find ways to heal from their experience. Regulation needs to be put into place if such “entertainment” is to continue.

What is bullying?

Bullying is a compulsive need to displace aggression and is achieved by the expression of inadequacy (social, personal, interpersonal, behavioural, professional) by projection of that inadequacy onto others through control and subjugation (criticism, exclusion, isolation etc). Bullying is sustained by abdication of responsibility (denial, counter-accusation, pretence of victimhood) and perpetuated by a climate of fear, ignorance, indifference, silence, denial, disbelief, deception, evasion of accountability, tolerance and reward (e.g promotion) for the bully. Tim Field. British anti-bullying activist. 1999.

Art credit – Aidar Zeineshev

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