Tuesday, December 03, 2013

How much reality is there in reality television?

Casting about on the Internet for a topic upon which to write today, I stumbled across a report that there might possibly be a reality show featuring the Ford family, Ford as in Rob Ford, Toronto’s outcast mayor.

As is the case with serendipitous happenstance, two things happened immediately following my enlightenment on developments in “Ford Nation”: I got interrupted and had to step away from the computer, during which someone mentioned soap operas to me. By the time I sat down here again, my subconscious brain had a few moments to work on its own. (Ain’t the creative side wonderful?)

It has dawned on me that reality television shows have not only become the soap operas of our time, they have also taken much of the place fiction writing used to occupy.

I bet if you stopped 100 people on the street and asked them how many minutes they’d spent during the past year reading fiction, compared to how many minutes they’d spent watching reality television, “reality” – a term best used loosely in this case – would win over fiction, hands down.

The curious thing, however, is that reality television isn’t really reality. It’s scripted, maybe not as much as your average sitcom or drama, but there are people in the background tweaking truth, manipulating outcomes and storylines, and creating what they want you to think is actually real. I would opine that compared to undoctored reality, what they do is pretty much comparable to WWE wrestling and its original Olympic roots. In other words, it’s fake. If I wanted to give it more dignity than it deserves, they’re focus is just as much on telling a compelling story as what I do every day.

Reality television’s creators deal in tropes and archetypal characters, much as we do when we create fiction – especially when we want it to sell well. Ever notice how the latest survivor series has pretty much the same “characters” as the previous one? Sure, the names and faces change, but the characters are consistent. So, too, with talent shows of the Britain’s Got Talent ilk. You don’t think they fool around with people’s backstories? (I happen to know someone who appeared on one, and the backstory the show’s producers gave him was miles away from the person I knew.)

As a writer of fiction, I take exception to what’s going on. From the outset, people know I’m making up what they’re reading. Reality television, like WWE Wrestling, is pretending to show you “the real thing”. What they’re peddling is in reality bullshit. Could you get them actually admit that? No. And there are many fans of these shows who willingly swallow what they’re peddling without questions.

The sad thing is, of course, we’re being lied to once again, being taken for a ride, having the wool pulled over our eyes – and let’s face it, we’re willingly allowing it to be done to us. Hey, I can suspend disbelief as well as the next person, but I like to know when it needs to happen.

Which brings us full circle to Rob Ford and the rest of his family. They all seem to be good at lying, repeating falsehoods over and over, I guess eventually hoping their lies may become the truth through repetition – at least to their political constituency. The Fords are just the thing for a reality television series, and if it ever does come to pass that they get a show, my guess is the public will eat it up. I know I’d be tempted to watch – at least once.

No comments: