Cast10Fly on the wall

Real­i­ty Tele­vi­sion are shows viewed as a “fly on the wall” or voyeur, where par­tic­i­pants with no appre­cia­ble tal­ent are put in a con­trived sit­u­a­tion, whether that be a house or island etc, then filmed pure­ly to see their reac­tions to these con­trived cir­cum­stances and each oth­er.  They are filmed pure­ly to see their reac­tions to these con­trived cir­cum­stances and their reac­tion to each oth­er. Although the vague thought may have start­ed in 1948, Real­i­ty Tele­vi­sion began in a much more recent occur­rence around 2000.

Cheap fillins

Real­i­ty TV began as what could be described as the poor man’s dra­ma, a cheap and nov­el way to effec­tive­ly fill in lack lus­ter sum­mer time-slots, a way for chan­nels to avoid the tra­di­tion­al “sum­mer­time reruns” and, hope­ful­ly, increase their rat­ings in the process. In the begin­ning it could pos­si­bly have been argued that real­i­ty TV was bet­ter than script­ed dra­ma for no oth­er rea­son than pro­duc­tion and tele­vi­sion com­pa­nies can keep a bit more mon­ey in their wal­lets (which if you are a TV exec you will agree this is an impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tion), unfor­tu­nate­ly for the tele­vi­sion com­pa­nies this cheap form of show is no longer so cheap, with the cost of prize mon­ey (par­tic­i­pant bribes), loca­tions, equip­ment & staffing mak­ing both script­ed dra­ma and real­i­ty TV on a fair­ly even keel, mon­ey wise at least.

Gladiatorial fights

We could say real­i­ty TV is the equiv­a­lent of mod­ern day Glad­i­a­to­r­i­al fights. We view the con­tes­tants on tele­vi­sion in a sim­i­lar manor to ancient Romans view­ing glad­i­a­tor bat­tles held in a sta­di­um, or Col­i­se­um for the big­ger bud­get shows. Con­tes­tants are pit­ted against each oth­er as we cheer and jeer at them, if they are not enter­tain­ing enough they are vot­ed off our screens, sim­i­lar to dis­favoured glad­i­a­tors being giv­en the thumbs up or down depend­ing on the reac­tion of the crowd and emper­or. These “real­i­ty” shows encour­age a lack of empa­thy and polar­iza­tion; par­tic­i­pants are reward­ed for demon­stra­tive and demean­ing behav­iour, for cheat­ing, lying, manip­u­lat­ing and bul­ly­ing each oth­er. Things that we high­ly dis­cour­age in nor­mal society.

Suspended belief in Reality

Just as with the ancient Roman glad­i­a­tor fights, real­i­ty TV is pro­gres­sive­ly becom­ing more and more extreme in the strug­gle to keep the “blood thirsty” audi­ence enter­tained. As an exam­ple just think of the new wave of real­i­ty TV shows about to hit our screens where the par­tic­i­pants are chil­dren, do we hon­est­ly believe that they are capa­ble of under­stand­ing the effects this will have on them?.  No mat­ter how far are the bound­aries that Real­i­ty TV wants to push, Script­ed Dra­ma can always go fur­ther because it has the “sus­pend­ed belief in Real­i­ty”.  You can address cur­rent world shap­ing sub­jects in script­ed dra­ma that you can’t do in Real­i­ty TV.

Bitchin’ scripts

Big Broth­er par­tic­i­pants just sit around and bitch.  How is that bet­ter than script­ed Dra­ma?  Script­ed Dra­ma always reveals some­thing new, trans­ports you back in time or to the Future.  It aids you in look­ing at Apartheid or the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion or any num­ber of inter­est­ing places.  To watch bor­ing Drop­kicks bitch­ing about one anoth­er, I could just look out my win­dow or walk down Oxford Street after a dance par­ty.  Real­i­ty Tele­vi­sion pro­grams involve a com­pe­ti­tion with prizes of a mil­lion dol­lars, A car or a Trip Over­seas.  So the real­i­ty is that cost infra­struc­ture is chang­ing for these which means the dif­fer­en­tial in cost­ing between that and Script­ed Dra­ma is marginal.

Reality or escape

What is the judge­ment it is mak­ing on soci­ety as a whole?  That peo­ple will do any­thing for a mil­lion dol­lars.  Is this some­thing we want our soci­ety to learn?  We nev­er see a Real­i­ty TV pro­gram where we see the best of peo­ple, cer­tain­ly not in Big Broth­er.  “Who wants to be a Mil­lion­aire” may not be too bad but what about the “Bach­e­lor” series or “Joe Mil­lion­aire” where the Guy deceives girls into believ­ing he’s a mil­lion­aire to encour­age the Girls to fight for him.  In the end he is noth­ing he pur­ports to be.  The ques­tion that has to be addressed is do we real­ly want to spend our time watch­ing peo­ple on TV do this or would we rather engage with real peo­ple around us.  Script­ed TV allows us the lux­u­ry of a fan­ta­sy escape from “real­i­ty” if we want it.

Rite of Passage

If you are won­der­ing why any­one would want to par­tic­i­pate in such an intru­sive and unre­lent­ing pro­gram , there’s a the­o­ry that this has become a new rite of passage…something like jump­ing on a Con­ti­ki tour bus with a bunch of 20-some­things – where every­one drinks them­selves into a coma whilst Europe pass­es them by.  Most of the par­tic­i­pant are known because they are not par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing.  There­fore appear­ing on Big Broth­er is like bungee jump­ing, it is some­thing you can tell your grand­chil­dren about to prove that you were once young, hip and brave.

For whom

The lat­est chal­lenge for pro­duc­ers of this medi­um of what we laugh­ing­ly call Real­i­ty TV, is to screen out any actors look­ing for a tick­et to star­dom.  Pro­duc­ers often seek to cre­ate con­flict be seek­ing to cast dialec­ti­cal­ly opposed con­tes­tants.  In one case a Black activist was cast along­side an advo­cate of white pow­er.  You can guess what the ensu­ing con­flict was like. One asks  is it bet­ter and for whom? Cer­tain­ly not for view­ers whose choic­es are grow­ing ever few­er, nor for the myr­i­ad of tal­ent­ed writ­ers, actors and direc­tors who study and work for a pit­tance while pay­ing their dues only to have their chance at suc­cess stolen away by the lat­est five minute wonder.!

[Thanks to Jeannie Neill, Emanda Percival & Stef Quigley for their contributions to this side of an argument]