Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Reality TV gets real?

Last week, the Midnight Oil lyric-inspired clichés were flying around thick and fast. This week, it’s the death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts turn of the reality TV show “Big Brother”. Today's Letters to the Ed in the Oz offer some choice samples, from Alice "for the refugees . . . there isn't a weekly shopping budget, a pool, a spa" Nash, of Brisbane's leafy St Lucia:

I was embarrassed watching, thinking how redneck and arrogant Australians can be#. In this case, conservatism has bred ignorance – spurred and shaped by the Government.

to Kingsbury, Victoria's Andrew Gilbert:

It's the most realistic reality TV ever broadcast.

An honorable mention must also go Attadale, WA's Dean Durber, for almost (he uncharacteristically missed only this week's buzzword) pulling-off the fortnightly cliché quinella:

We are too concerned with establishing a high international profile on the right hand side of our American God . . . Congratulations Merlin Luck. Thanks for showing this country how its beds are burning all over again.

Meanwhile, over in Op Ed land, it's a case of Pull-eaze, Dean Bertram:

Ironically, what was most shocking about Merlin's protest was not the message that it carried but that it was delivered within the medium of a reality TV show; a place where the audience apparently neither expected nor desired to see the unfolding of a real, uncontrolled event.

Regardless of Merlin's intentions, the insight that his protest offered was just how lacking in reality reality TV usually is. His unscripted actions appeared in sharp contrast to our expectations of this kind of programming. Of course, the event was hurriedly appropriated back into the reality TV format.

In fact, “the reality TV format” is just as fluid/“uncontrolled” as (i) whatever rates and (ii) what the sponsors (and other putters-up of the bucks, if applicable) will wear, "retrospectively" if it comes down to it (and on live TV it well might). That Merlin’s protest did no apparent ratings harm might cast a thinking person’s mind back to the 1976 film “Network” (Dir. Sidney Lumet, Wr. Paddy Chayefsky), and forward to today’s Islamofascist snuff film mini-industry. PhD student Dean, on the other hand, is too busy watching the TV show – patiently waiting for the history howlers to come out of the mouths of yoof – to care too much about the bigger picture. Just as well his PhD is as good as written already – Dean knows exactly who’s buttering his bread, when he name-drops in some obligatory 80s yawnsters (here, Jean Baudrillard and Umberto Eco).

As for the sponsors: why does the average PhD arts student’s conception of “reality” never extend to financial reality? “Big Brother” is obviously expensive to produce, and it’s on free-to-air TV; ergo, someone has to pay – lots – for it. While I don’t personally care about the balance-sheets of the sundry fast-food merchants and purveyors of fine household disinfectants who infest the ad-breaks of the show, Dean Bertram could have showed a bit more sympathy for the studio audience, many of whom were booing the stone-faced, silent Merlin. All of these people paid – up to $85 each – to see a show. And every show has its climax, of which the immediate post-eviction debrief (i.e. the five minutes for which Merlin chose to be silent) is clearly the let’s-all-do-the-can-can moment for a “Big Brother” live eviction. (Sounds weird, particularly if you haven’t seen the show, and your tastes run to giant chandelier-type musicals, but it’s true.)

Finally, there’s the curious, coincidental overlap of the Merlin incident with transsexual Miriam’s brief stay in the “Big Brother” house. Proving the aphorism* that left-leaning PhD students should not live on 80s’ theory alone, comes this rather off-colour observation:

Viewer Hayden Robson, 41, of Springvale, said he was delighted by Luck's message. "So the network that's had Miriam in there, setting the sexual agenda, does not like other social agendas being set for it," he said.

Err, Hayden – if the sight of a good-time lovin’ transsexual in a house (two-thirds) full of sex-starved straight young men doesn’t rate for you – fine. As long as you’re aware that “agendas” are often only as good as the person spouting them, and your little hate-tinged spray (since when was transsexuality an “agenda”?) does worse than nothing for your cause. As does, I suspect, Merlin’s hijacking of his own debriefing – every “What happened to the show?” booer in that crowd could henceforth have a heart, on the mandatory detention issue, as stony as was Merlin’s face the other night (and quite properly so, IMO).

# (16/06/04) I can't recall which Continental high-priest of Theory observed that TV studio audiences were only ever the drop of a cue away from turning into a bloodlusting Nuremberg-rally crowd, but I'm sure there was one.

* Which I just made up, of course.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?