Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Core Response 5: The price was right with reality. And there's no turning back.

This week's readings on reality TV have really been enlightening. I am completely honest when I say- I never knew where the hell it came from. It wasn't just some lunatic with a handheld. There was a financial gap, and reality fit the bill. Chad Raphael's article shed light on my understanding of reali-TV. There were the obvious causes: quicker development, turnaround time, no need for talent, skilled labor, or writers, and low end production values, and an overall need for networks to flood their schedules with programming (Raphael). Money. Money. Money. Reality Tv rose out of fear of inadequacy of the networks, and it was convenient. But is it a bad thing?  Where would television be without reality TV? That's a question we can probably never answer, because it is now so ingrained in programming, and with technology making it easier to contribute to reality TV (and the hundreds of outlets not just on network and cable); there's no turning back. There's a part of me that cringes when I think we have become to accustomed to what we see on reality TV... how do we distance it from scripted programming that resembles "reality" on a show such as The Wire?

How do we feel differently when we watch Reality Tv?

Don't get me wrong... my early introduction of reality TV consisted of Nickelodeon gameshows of the early 90s: Legends of the Hidden Temple,  Double Dare, Wild N Crazy Kids, What would you Do? and my personal favorite.... Nickelodeon GUTS.
Those kids were like me-- and they got slimed and tested and won prizes, and so did I. It was exciting to tune in week to week and see kids take on these challenges. I was jealous. No lie. And then later came Survivor (only season 1.. it wore off quick for me) and Who Wants to Be a Millionare... more excitement.. but as Raphael stated, reality tv has a shelf life. And kind of like a new child's toy, once the spark is gone, it's gone. In Nickelodeon shows, I grew up and moved on. Millionare: Google happened. Is that your final answer lost the thrill.

But then it became a love hate.... The Bachelor: love sometimes, and sometimes I'd skip it if it felt like an interruption or boring. I could tune in and out and it really had no bearing. But it's the people that sometimes scare me. And that was where my distaste rose.
My most vivid instance of this annoyance toward reality TV was when it followed the nightly news and local spotlight while I was at home this past summer. My local news would always do a 7:30 pm spotlight of something about New Hampshire, whether it be historical, current, cultural etc. -- it's a really wonderful program to enjoy. And my family would cook dinner and watch while we ate. The TV was across the kitchen. Then... at 8:00, like a shot in the night, the INSIDE EDITION theme would BLARE and ruin the harmonious tranquility about small town life in New Hampshire. All of the beauty gone and I'd see something horrible about Kim Kardashian, or some runaway air balloon that a deer got stuck in... whatever it was. It ruined dinner. Every. Single. Time. And someone would get up and just shut it off and shudder. So in some instances, there is something about reality that is kind of like a grotesque monster of the worst in us. We revel in the lives of others misfortune (which seems to be a theme in a program like Inside Edition). As a writer, that makes me uncomfortable and fearful... will reality TV ever push scripted out of the primetime?

I consider the point Raphael stated about the notion of "civic value" that located itself in the early days of reality tv. There seemed to be a connection with the viewer on a personal level of information rather than pure entertainment. There was a truth located somewhere and now it's been distilled... (think the Bachelor and true love... think "REAL" housewives... what the hell is going on?)  Or are we just fascinated with something so distant from out daily lives that the label itself of "reality" on something so artificial is something we can't turn away from? It's GOT to be real because it says so, but WOW, are we feeling good about our situation from the comfort of our own home. It's a spectacle. Looking at the reality landscape today... where has civic value gone?
The believer in me hopes that this power of technology we all possess (on iPhones or whatever) can contribute a positive force in the name of civic value. Are there reality shows that make us feel good about ourselves and the people we see?


  1. Lauren, I really enjoy your post and I think you bring up some interesting points to consider! While I often pride myself as someone who can generally resist the temptations of reality TV, the truth is that I’m lured in just like everyone else. Often times it has to do with the fascination with catastrophe, or the inability to look away from something labeled as “real” but is bewilderingly bizarre or unfamiliar. Like you describe, I often use reality TV as a counterpart or a signifier that my life isn’t as complicated or dramatic by comparison. Subconsciously, however, I think much of what is conveyed the narrative of the reality show resonates with me personally. For example McCarthy highlights how psychoanalysis infuses reality TV and we see the dichotomy between analyst and “traumatized patient” (28) at work. There is something problematically cathartic about self-management played out before me. I feel my life is somehow validated when I observe someone working through his or her own anguish; I’m given the impression that I can do the same (even if my anxieties and concerns hardly resemble the contestants). I like the artificial notion that terrible situations can be, for a time, “improved.”

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