Things I Hate (but feel like I shouldn’t): Reality TV

First official post of Fad Hawk! Let’s get right to it:

Welcome to the first edition of “Things I Hate (but feel like I shouldn’t)” #1: “Reality TV”.

So I take the wife and brother to a local Hookah bar last night, and am immediately assaulted by the big screen TV in the corner. It’s not playing sports, or music videos, or even MMA (::shudder::)- it’s set to MTV and its latest darling, “Jersey Shore”. Not only is the program an assault on my sense of decency, I honestly believe it poses a Medical Risk- I fear I may roll my eyes so deep into my brow that they get stuck. Read on, after the break…

Instead of picking on this show specifically, let’s start by defining what I mean by “reality tv”. Obviously, reality tv can encompass everything from sports programming to nature docs to game shows to “Big Brother”. So when I refer to “reality tv”, I’m referring specifically to “Voyeur TV”- the shows whose premises center around normal people/wacky circumstances, or wacky people/normal circumstances, or literally any show on MTV.

Re[dited]ality

The first issue I have with these types of shows are the editing tactics on display. As an amateur filmmaker/videographer, I’ve had to sit through hours and hours of “real” to pull out the best parts, and while it is undoubtedly an art form unto itself, it does not make good TV alone. Often times, the “wacky” on display, whether it’s the people or the situations, isn’t nearly as wacky as it appears. This lends a certain disingenuity to these shows, at least to my “seasoned” eye, that makes it at best no better than a scripted show at capturing “reality”, and at worst a poor imitation of traditional TV, without the network having to actually do anything to entertain us. Leading me to my next grief…

Ca$h Cows

To explain this next point, I have to delve deep into the bowels of history and point out the origin of the shiny turd we refer to as television. Television, and television programming (to be more to the point), was created by corporations. Of course, we know they didn’t spend time, energy and money to entertain the American public out of the kindness of their hearts- it was always a vehicle for advertising. As science and advertising caught up to each other, the Science of Advertising (otherwise known as Marketing) was born, and America would never be the same.

What does all of this have to do with Reality TV? Throughout the history of TV, while it was always designed to make you want to buy whatever these corporations had to sell, they always at least had to try. Trying meant putting down cold hard investment cash, hiring producers, writers, and actors or talent, coming up with clever storylines and plots or reinventing old ones. All of this took an immense amount of effort, coordination, technology and general know-how that could only be performed by a company (or corporation) large enough to bring it all together. This was the price they had to pay to enter our homes, and sell their crap crafts. 

Consider this apt analogy: If you’ve ever tried the free-stuff-for-timeshare-pitch deal, you’re familiar with just what a circus it is. Even if you haven’t, if you’ve even heard of companies handing out free dinners, spending cash or even weekend getaways just to get the chance to pitch you the “opportunity of a lifetime”, then you already have some idea of how low you’ll stoop before agreeing to the deal. The tradeoff is simple in theory: You get stuff (which we like) for a sales pitch (which we don’t). Every time I’ve been to one of these presentations, they try to even make the sales pitch as fun and entertaining as possible, with charismatic speakers and giveaways and balloons… But even if the sales presentation wasn’t completely uncomfortable, the actual reason you were there- show tickets, free dinners or hotel stays- was of enough value to you to justify the hour or two you spent getting pitched hard by desperate salesmen/women and tricky finance guys.

Apply this concept to reality TV, and you start to realize these corporations are getting our viewership almost for free! The typical scripted show costs an average of $2 million to make. In comparison, a typical reality show can cost an average of $800,000 an episode. The bottom line? TV Networks are getting better, and lazier, about providing content on which they can attach (or even base an entire show around) their marketing messages and sponsors. This is akin to those same timeshare presentations giving you the exact same presentation, but instead of a dinner at a lavish local restaurant, they’ll let you come and eat at one of the salesmen’s houses with their family for a night. Not necessarily a bad thing, and maybe the dinner is very enjoyable,  but it’s probably not your idea of a worthwhile proposition for your time spent in that meeting.

Societal Impact

My last gripe about Reality TV is their impact on our society. Previously deplorable actions and behaviors are glorified, and the implied statement is that because these are real people, these are how real people behave. In the pursuit of “normality”, we see “normal” behavior displayed in glorious technicolor and mimic it with our own affairs, promiscuity, deceitfulness, or vanity. This is no accident, or even a sign of the times in our “me first”, “do what feels good” society; just like we are subtly nudged toward our own destructive behavior, we are nudged toward purchasing the latest fashions, the latest technology, or whatever other products, services, or trends are on sale today.

Here I must apologize to Douglas Rushkoff– I’m in the middle of reading his latest book, Life, Inc., and it is a scathing indictment of the corporations we are enslaved to and the corporate society they have carefully crafted and use to keep us enslaved to actions and thoughts that are even detrimental to our own lives. Since it has affected me so deeply, I’m sure I’ve borrowed much of the language and many concepts from the content of the book in the writing of this post. However, I bring the book up specifically now because of its mention of how these mega corporations ingrain in us desires to both purchase their goods, but also to define ourselves by our consumerism (I’m a PC vs I’m a Mac, I wear Adidas or Vans, I shop at Target vs Walmart, etc). One way they do this is through our entertainment, and Reality TV is possibly the most conspicuous example. They show people chasing happiness or contentment through consumption, and whether or not they succeed, we feel compelled to chase the same dream, and of course we’re convinced we’ll be happy if and when we get that house/car/job/phone/computer/gaming system/contest/lottery ticket etc etc etc. Please, if you value real quality of life, or are even the slightest bit interested, read that book- I’ll even buy you a copy or lend you mine.

In colcusion, don’t fall for the Reality TV (or any TV, really) trap, guys. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being entertained, but guard yourselves against these external influences that, while they may not be actively seeking our destruction, certainly don’t have our best interests at heart.

Oh, and, sorry for the ridiculous length of this post. I promise to be more concise in the future! Agree? Disagree? Comments are open…

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2 thoughts on “Things I Hate (but feel like I shouldn’t): Reality TV

  1. John says:

    Nice, dude. I wanted to ask, what is your purpose behind the blog? Because while I agree with your takes, where does supply and demand fit in? If there are any huge of numbers of mindless idiots demanded more crap, who is to blame? The company giving it to them and making a profit on it or the person consuming the crap? If enough people stopped eating crap, the companies would stop making it.

    I don’t hate the companies for making the crap, I hate that so many people eat it.

    • Eddie says:

      Thanks for reading, John!

      There’s not a very defined purpose for the blog, I just enjoy picking apart pop culture and discussing any topics that come up in the process.

      I’d first respond by saying you’re absolutely right about laying blame- it’s not the marketplace’s function to replace our own self discipline. Plus, it’s hard to hate companies that (mainly) create jobs and innovations that help everyone, directly or indirectly. I just think we need to find a balance- the death of the small business is alarming, and I don’t think we can play the blame game like we have for years. It’s both a government and corporate problem, republican and democrat, and the only way out is by coming back together and rediscovering our value as humans and not just as consumers.

      As for your point about supply and demand, I would say while there is demand now, through advertising and social sciences, corporations have created demand for themselves. For example, cars were useless if everyone could get around by train/bus/carriage in urban cities, so suburbia became the American dream, and the government built roads for the burgeoning auto industry. The housing market wouldn’t have collapsed if lending institutions weren’t flush with cash to lend that they weren’t about to sink directly into the real estate market- instead, they crafted ingenious loans to create a demand for home ownership that didn’t exist, and the handout happy government was more than happy to lend a helping hand. I’d suggest there wasn’t a demand for subprime loans, even though ARMs and other risky loans had been available for years, until it was artificially created by low interest rates and even lower lending requirements.

      Do you think we, collectively as a community and a nation, possess the discipline to refuse something we know isn’t good for us if government or big business had a vested interest in selling it to us? Do we even have a support system in place to know the difference?

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