Friday, 31 December 2010

New Years resolution - quit reality TV

Ever since the trail-blazing 1960s, a democratisation of entertainment has occured in which 'high' forms of art and culture no longer dominate our collective imaginary. To put that in less of an arse-to-mouth academic kind of way, we began to believe that things such as pop music and soap operas can be equally as nourishing as, say, a Beethoven symphony or a Jane Austin novel. This trend reached fever-pitch around the year 2000 when the world got bitten by the reality TV bug. The success of shows such as Survivor and Big Brother caused self-righteous individuals across the world to proclaim the death of culture, and the deterioration of entertainment.

Very much a child of my generation, I was swept up in the reality TV buzz. The social aspect of the shows like Survivor is perhaps what is most fascinating about them, they are a bizarre microcosm of life. A large dose of narcissism also fuels the intrigue of reality TV - watching everyday people in extreme situations causes one to picture themselves in the same environment. The high drama of shows such as The X Factor makes the viewer feel as though the contestants are really acheiving something, and that you are fortunate just to be a spectator.

When I think back to the hours I have spent waiting to find out who is in the bottom three of So You Think Can Dance, listening to the Big Brother housemates' drivel, or writing a 100,000 word Survivor fan-fiction story at age fourteen, I feel a little sad, and can't help but wonder if those hours could have been spent more wisely.

Shows such as The Sopranos and Mad Men highlight the fact that television can be an artful medium, but there is no art in reality TV. Just a jack-off formula intended to pull at the heart-strings and test your nerves. The maximum pleasure that can possibly be gained from reality TV is the equivalent of, say, eating a Big Mac meal: a hedonistic thrill that is enjoyable at the time but pretty depressing in hindsight.

Television networks realise that the reality TV is both cheap to produce and easy to market, and are therefore less willing to fund other types of programs. Why would a bottom-dollar network boss want to fund scriptwriters, actors and a director for a drama which could possibly flop when they can stick six disgustingly stereotypical Italian-American 'guidos' in a house for two months and come up with the small-screen goldmine that was Jersey Shore. The show would have cost MTV peanuts to make and was so successful that it has been credited with driving an 8% surge in revenue for MTV's umbrella company Viacom.

No matter how ridiculous the show, it's no great gamble for networks, so there is no reason for reality TV to disappear anytime soon. This worries me because reality TV is fast becoming all that people watch on the box, and I don't think can be a good thing for our collective intelligence. I'm sick of waiting an ad break for some result, I'm sick of commentating voice-overs which insult my intelligence and I'm sick of the dodgy editing which repeats snippets of imagery week after week.

You can sing all you like about entertainment for entertainment's sake, but I've quit reality TV because I deserve better.