Sun 19 Apr 2009
The first step, as they say, is admitting you have a problem. Okay. So, I like reality TV. Some reality TV, anyway. I enjoy the spectacle and the transformative journeys in The Biggest Loser and the level of talent and execution in So You Think You Can Dance. However, just as documentaries (e.g. Michael Moore’s Sicko, which I liked) aren’t “the truth”, reality TV is not reality.
I know this is obvious. But perhaps it is not quite obvious enough to those who should know better.
Let me use as an example the “singing sensation” of Susan Boyle, who appeared on the ITV show Britain’s Got Talent on 11th April. I was impressed when Bianca Ryan sung on America’s Got Talent, and this is also impressive in its own way.
I think she’s got a wonderful voice. Now, ask yourself this question – do you think it’s possible for a performer to end up on that stage without anyone in the production company knowing whether the performer can sing? Of course they knew she had a great voice. Note the line from one of the hosts mid-performance: “You’s didn’t expect that did you?” Clearly, the host expected it.
The selection of the performer, the performer’s make-up, the questions asked before the performance, the over-the-top reactions of the judges, the editing-in of selected audience reactions, and possibly even the song selected and the dress she wore are all likely to have been controlled by the production company. What we are witnessing is a manufactured reality, created to have us thinking the performer is a dreamer and then surprise us when they aren’t.
However, the media surrounding this TV performance appears to be treating it as “real” reality. One journalist quoted by the BBC, even describes the performance as a “reality check”. Are they participating in spreading the myth that this is reality? Or don’t they know any better? Such media stories might as well be labelled “reality media”.