Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday Soapbox: Is it Reality or is it Television?

Curious changes have taken place over the years since the first television programs went on the air. We went from airing live programs (was that reality TV?) to airing programs that were filmed in advance along with a blend of both. If the cameras are running while Johnny Carson interviews guests, is that reality? Well, it's real, but it is meant to be entertainment that is guided by a script. That constitutes programming, which constitutes traditional TV.

I haven't quite "gotten" the definition of reality television. Here are some things I think are criteria, though:
  • Must not use actors (though the people starring in each program arguably want to be actors)
  • Must allow for many possibilities and an air of unpredictability
  • Must seem to be a lot like home movies, only slightly more coherent
  • Must dramatize otherwise boring elements of life
There are some "reality shows" that aren't too bad. For example, I usually watch The Biggest Loser, because I have a soft spot in my heart for people who are trying to save their lives by losing weight. I did that myself. The first couple of years it was on, it was brilliant. I even considered trying out for the show, but then I found my own way to weight loss. This year, however, they did a couples challenge and also introduced product spots into the show itself.
"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Studies show blah blah blah blah blah...that's why you should start your day with Quaker Weight Control Oatmeal..."
All of this is said with the product facing the camera and the trainers lecturing a group of contestants who are trying to look interested and are trying not to smirk. STUPID! They also invited a psychotherapist (Jillian's mom) to interview each person on camera, make a snap diagnosis and tell them how to fix what was standing in the way of their weight loss. Ugh. Stupid. I stopped watching it until the finale (because I was dying to see who won).

These shows are heavily edited to make some people look better than others. Some people are made to look like villains, just for the sake of drama. The contracts the contestants sign are tighter than they were in the beginning. They preclude the contestant from suing for defamation or from leaking any information on who might win the contest.

We also watched Survivor the first couple of times it was on. It's a show that drops a group of contestants into a remote location with very little in the way of survival tools. BUT that show soon became nothing more than a very early version of Fear Factor (simply a gross out show), and a magnet for wannabe actors. So we stopped watching that, too. Many, many other reality shows began to spring up after Survivor, which was arguably the first one. Most of them are just awful (have you seen Big Brother? Give me a break!).

Some are kind of funny. Nanny 911 features British professional nannies being sent in to help very stupid parents who are in over their heads to get a grip on their little monsters. I kind of like that one, but I can't watch it if I have a headache because of the inevitably screaming kids. I saw an episode the other day in which a woman was paying more attention to her pot-bellied pig, who was living inside and would sometimes go after the kids, than to her children. Her kids would often eat out of the pig's food bowl, and one of the little girls would fling her poo across the room or smear it onto her parents in the middle of the night. And they didn't know how to handle it???!!!!

The one that really takes the cake, though, is Rock of Love. Bret Michaels, the lead singer for the band Poison (which had its heyday 20 years ago) appears as himself, looking for love. A bunch of trashy girls are paraded around in front of him in skimpy, trashy outfits, and they have to compete to go on dates with him. That's all I know about it, other than that Michaels has to wear a colorful head scarf to hide his rapidly receding hairline. My daughter turns this show on while I'm trying to work, and I hate it. Since she's moving out this week, I will no longer be subjected to such drivel.

Yesterday, as I was trying to get a few things done, I could hear the show in the background. Some (excuse my language) little whore was on a date with him and couldn't wait to tell him that she wasn't wearing any underwear. She revealed it like this, before they ordered dinner, "I feel I have to tell you this. I'm not wearing any underwear." Then the camera cuts to an interview with Michaels after the fact, talking about the date. "That's the sexiest thing you can say to a guy," he said. "It was like 'cha-ching'!" I found myself wondering if he meant "SCHWING!" like in Wayne's World. It's bad when the dumb rock star is so dumb he can't even get the cliches or idioms right. Of course, then the couple connected on a physical level (their words, not mine) and got to know each other a little better.


I don't understand it. I don't even know how this stuff gets on television. I think some of it must be on because everyone loves a train wreck. They can't stop looking. It's ridiculous though. I wondered, when I was a kid, what would be on television if we had the hundreds of channels they predicted we would someday have. Now I know. Channels and channels of drivel, dumbed down "reality" shows, and phony trials in front of a TV judge.

Some of my home movies are truly better than what's on television. I don't care for reality TV on the whole. Some of it has been alright, particularly in the beginning, but now I'm ready for some good old fashioned programming.

Ah yes. LOST will be back on Thursday!

Peace - D


Daryl E said...

Here's my take. I have enough reality in my life without it being on TV .. All My Children is as close to schlock TV as I ever want to get.

LOST rocks!

CrazyCath said...

I agree with you on this. Big brother is utter TRASH and most reality shows are anything but in my book.

I don't know some of the other show but in the UK we had "Joe Millionaire" - I think the first one. I liked that one but the series after were rubbish compared. I liked that one because the builder who was "Joe" seemed a genuinely nice guy. Some of the girls weren't, but some were.

And your comment about "phony trials in front of a TV judge" - I like Judge Judy now and again (can't hack it too often) - are they legally binding those trials? I often wonder. And how come she can rule for any state? They seem to come from all over. I like how she handles the crap. ;0)

Momma said...

Daryl - You're a woman after my own heart. I've heard that these last 5 episodes of the season are going to be amazing and that we won't know or care whether we are in the past, present, or future!

Cath - I like Judge Judy, too, in small doses. She puts people in their place. But my daughter watches this stuff non-stop. I don't get it! As for how the trials work, the parties involved have to sign a waiver saying that they will agree to whatever the TV judge decides and that they will not take the same matter into a "real" court of law. So the TV judges were once "real" judges in a real jurisdiction. They signed on to the TV series and now only have jurisdiction over the people put before them. It's usually small claims.

You make a good point about "Joe Millionaire." We had that one stateside, too, and the first one was good. I wonder if they kind of lose their uniqueness (or perhaps lose their bearings) in subsequent runs? Interesting observation.

Peace - D

Burgh Baby's Mom said...

I actually can't stand reality TV, but I do watch Rock of Love. My reason? It's just so fake and trashy that it's hysterical! I don't believe for a minute that any of the girls are actually even slightly interested in the Wigged Wonder, and it's amusing to me to see how they go about faking it. Cracks me up! I don't cry if I miss it, but I do think it's one of the funnest comedies on TV.

Momma said...

BBM - HA! The "Wigged Wonder"! :-) I suppose when you look at it as a comedy, then it is a little more palatable. I just hate to see women use their bodies like pieces of meat to bait the rich men.

On another note, my husband actually met Bret a few years back. He said he is the biggest conceited a$$hole he's ever had the displeasure to meet.


Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

You stay up on that soapbox, girly - you're talking my language! With blogs, I have to admit, I'm kind of amazed by the level of disclosure that some people feel compelled to sink to. Maybe that's just me being old and prudish - I don't know. I guess that it's a logical sidestep from Reality TV to Reality Computer.

Momma said...

B von B - True. Some people treat the blog like their diary, turning out stuff that is a combination of boring and too personal. I fall somewhere in the middle. I talk about my life, but I try to stick with the interesting parts only. You'd have to ask my readers if I succeed!


Peace - D

Momma said...

B von B - True. Some people treat the blog like their diary, turning out stuff that is a combination of boring and too personal. I fall somewhere in the middle. I talk about my life, but I try to stick with the interesting parts only. You'd have to ask my readers if I succeed!


Peace - D