Remember when…we watched TV shows with real actors and real script in an attempt to escape reality. Nowadays, our TV listings are becoming more inundated with staged “reality-based” programs. Why has this type of programming reached such epidemic proportions? What are viewers getting out of them? Where are producers going with it and when will it end?
Actually, reality television is not really about reality. According to Dr. William Beard, professor of film and media studies, University of Alberta, “realism is the most misused word in the lexicon of film. Video realism is a store security camera, yet nobody wants to watch that.” He explains that, what ‘reality’ TV offers is an illusion of reality with the boring parts edited out. The production of a finished product such as Survivor, basically takes all the same equipment, apparatus and manpower to create a movie. One hour televised equals 100 hours of filming and editing to fit producers story line. This is NOT reality! The people you see are ‘real’ people, not actors.
Not only are these shows plentiful, but the record audiences are proof positive that this trend is unquestionable. Imagine 2.5 million viewers in Canada alone watching the recent episode of Survivor. Those numbers out-perform the NHL playoffs!
Most of us are familiar with one or more of the reality series, such as Canadian Idol, Big Brother, Bachelor/Bachelorette, Survivor, or Paradise Hotel. The latest ‘Apprentice’ received big reviews as Millionaire Donald Trump did his hiring and firing on national television. After hundreds of thousands of try outs, Mr. Trump did actually hire one person to be a vice-president of one of his companies with a yearly wage of $250,000.00. At least you see realism here.
On the other hand, there is a show presently airing called ‘The Swan’, where 17 self-described ugly ducklings chose to try and transform their wretched lives into fairy tales. These girls go through a complete makeover in a 3-month period, with plastic surgeons, dentists, personal trainers, and life coaches. All this takes place without a mirror and at the end of each episode a panel of judges’ chose which 2 move on to the final beauty pageant, where one will be crowned Ultimate Swan. Or, how about ‘Temptation Island’, where attractive singles are put on an exotic island with unmarried couples who are “leading their relationships into temptation”. It is interesting to note that the audience was rated third among children under 11!
A new and controversial episode ready to air is ‘Be my Baby’. Barbara Walters hosts this show, as a pregnant 16 year old will choose a couple to adopt her baby. Five couples will be interviewed on national television as they try to prove they would make the best parents to the child. How unreal is it to take something as sacred as adoption, mold it into a game, and then sell it for profit?
Are we becoming desensitized as the shock factor bar is raised with each new episode we see and moral boundaries are constantly being crossed? I believe that the next generations can byte into reality with proper guidance. They can be taught to watch these shows with a critical eye to see what is and is not normal (real). But also they need to know that what IS real is the fact that they/we are all created specially and that our purpose in life is to do what is right and good.