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.
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.
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.
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.
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.!