Montreal Radio Blog

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reality Television Isn't Reality

There is no such thing as reality television - it’s rarely a reflexion of reality in any shape or form. It seems that a long time ago, you actually had to have some ability or talent in order to achieve some sort of fame. You may have been a bad actor or terrible singer, but at least you were doing something that attempted to entertain. Now, you can get instantly famous without having any talent or even any personality to speak of. Behind all this rage of reality TV is the once-repressed human urge of voyeurism. People are always curious to see the “inner lives” of others. When McLuhan claimed that the medium itself was the message, he wasn’t kidding. Now you’re famous simply because you’re on TV, even if you are just sitting around a table and talking pointless drivel.

It all started inocently enough. One of the first reality shows, “COPS“, is still on. From the start, it kind of seemed far less contrived in that you really didn’t know what you were about to face when you headed out on the road with the police. Seemed like a good premise for a show and it was a big eye-opener. Rare are the reality shows that maintain that quality though…

As we entered the 2000s, scripted programming began to take a beating… It really started with the emergence of “Survivor”. It was something different, but at least there seemed to be a point to the premise. It became a huge hit and is now part of American popular culture. It’s the kind of show that could stay on the air forever… Unfortunately, the show’s format has become mercilessly copied from the start. The concept of getting rid of someone at the end of each show became a new fad - from who gets the last rose to who leaves "Hell’s Kitchen". It’s not survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the most popular. No, in real life you can’t usually get rid of people that way, although TV has made it seem fashionable.

And then there was the “celebrity” reality show. It must be noted that at their very beginnings, they actually used real celebrities and their families. Again the voyeur factor played a big role in some of these shows’ success. People wanted to see the way these folks really lived, and at first you probably did. At some point, however, it became obviously staged for the cameras. The first one of these successful shows was “The Osbournes” about a decade ago. Ozzie Osbourne was a big star with or without the show, but along the way these series began to pop up “starring” washed-up celebrities attempting to resurrect their careers. And eventually, you starting getting shows based on the lives of people who had never accomplished anything except that they have a recognizable name. Kardashians?

Another category of reality television is the “expert is gonna fix everything in an hour” show. It doesn’t matter if you have a failing restaurant, have a bad marriage, have nasty children or dogs that don’t behave, the expert will waltz into your home and miraculously fix everything by the time the show is over. In the meantime, that person will also subject you to ridiculous or even sadistic “challenges” that in many cases have nothing to do with your actual problem, but seem to make for better entertainment.

There are TV shows that follow businesses or professionals. There must be a dozen cake shows on TV, and at least a couple that make cupcake making look like a dangerous profession. No matter what you do in life, a camera crew is ready to follow you around. The thing is that a lot of the time they focus on personalities instead of the actual task at hand, and a good deal of the “drama” is obviously staged. Will they be able to fit the giant cake into the truck? - as the dramatic music plays as they break for commercial… Sometimes it is just laughable.

Then there is the reality show that focuses on groups of people. They are usually young people who either are thrown into a house together or hang out all day. It’s not a problem for them, since many apparently don’t have a job, and never intend to get one. As pointed out in the beginning, these people are famous only because they are on a show in the first place. “The Real World” and “Jersey Shore” are good examples of this kind of “show”.

And finally, there is American Idol and all the sad and very poor imitations that have filled the airwaves since it debuted. On these shows, groups of people are subjected to another version of the “vote off”, only this time it is done by the public. The fact that it is probably the same miniscule group of people voting 50 times a piece should not take away from the drama of it all. These shows create their own “brand” of stardom. What is an “American Idol“ or a “Masterchef“? They are titles created by the producers of those shows, that otherwise don’t really mean anything. On a show like Idol, with rare exception, the most talented performers have gone on to great fame without having won the whole thing. Of course, the exposure didn’t hurt…

It’s really amazing to see how many reality shows are on the air today and what they are about. Some are just too ridiculous for words and you just can‘t believe they exist. Just look through some of the titles on this list and try not to laugh! The fact remains though that somebody must be watching…

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