Some years ago, I saw an interview with an actor from the BBC’s “Eastenders” soap. He told the story of how, when he had joined the show, an old veteran took him to one side to warn him about members of the public he would meet who would be incapable of distinguishing between him as an actor and the character he played. He dismissed the warning, and recounted how later he found himself being accosted in the street for actions against a much loved female character which his character, who was a bad boy, was engaged in.
I didn’t think much of this until I then attended the opening of a nightclub in Dublin, where the guest celebrity was an actor from ITV’s “Coronation Street”. Young women were all over him, which was understandable as he was a good looking guy, but what was striking was that nearly all the women I witnessed speaking to or about him referred to him by his character’s name, to his face, and I could not help wondering how many of them could tell the difference between him and his character?
I ask this question purely because I recently happened to catch a few minutes of an episode of C4’s “Made in Chelsea” reality show, where there’d apparently been a romantic row between some of the characters, and it got me thinking: given that these people are being sold not as characters but as real life people (and the public are certainly encouraged to believe that), is it that far-fetched to imagine a situation where a character is emotionally hurt by another character, a situation which is then hyped up by celebrity magazines and media, and where a member of the public decides to intervene, possibly with violence, to “help” this “real” person whom they have formed an emotional bond with?
I’m not suggesting this is anybody’s fault. Nutters are nutters. I just wonder whether the reality tag mixed with the pervasive over-emotionalism of the modern media will result in a lethal cocktail? Could we see in future some nut standing in the dock pleading that he only wanted to help Celebrity X because Celebrity Z was hurting her so much? After all, this is reality, isn’t it?