Published on July 29th, 20141
In defence of reality TV
By Ben Allison
Let me play Devil’s advocate for the duration of this article.
Let’s all suspend our prejudices and listen to a counter-argument to one of the world’s greatest evils: Kim Kardashian. Well not just Kim Kardashian, but the entire Kardashian Klan (see what I did there?) and every other star of reality television.
You see, I don’t think of reality television as an evil machination designed to destroy all scripted shows while turning our brains into a sludgey, gooey mass under the guise of ‘entertainment’. However, I am more than aware that there are a large population of people out there who seem to think reality television is exactly that.
The criticism for reality television is loud and aggressive, and I am more than accustomed to an over-the-top eye roll or groan of disgust I inevitably encounter the minute I begin to mention The Real Housewives of… actually don’t worry, I can already anticipate the page being turned before I even finish that phrase.
But is reality television really as poor a form of entertainment as it is made out to be? After all Survivor is currently set to shoot its 29th season. That’s 23 entire seasons more than one of the most critically acclaimed television series of all time, The Sopranos, which won a multitude of awards including Emmys, Golden Globes and Satellite Awards. I’m certainly not saying that longevity is the key to a series’ critical success, but doesn’t it say something that millions of people are still prepared to sit down in front of their television to watch a series that first started airing 14 years ago?
Recently reality TV has come under fire after some Aussie reality stars have revealed the ‘evil nature’ of the genre that goes on behind the scenes and after the cameras stop rolling. My Kitchen Rules star, Kelly Ramsay, revealed in a recent interview that she believes editing is to blame for her villainous persona on the show. Subsequently, Big Brother celeb, Tully Smyth, wrote an article in support of her. However, I honestly don’t have much sympathy for these Z-list celebs. A part of them must have realised what they were potentially signing up for when they signed their contracts to be on television for all of Australia to see. They knew there would be cameras filming their every move (in Tully’s case, literally 24/7). They must have known the cameras would be there to catch the good and the bad, and if something bad were to occur, then that would inevitably be shown. After all, the viewers love to watch a bitch fight over a heart-warming hug.
Of course, I agree that the backlash both Tully and Kelly received as the show started to air is unfair and is nothing less than bullying. I do not condone that whatsoever. However, as Brandi Glanville of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills fame says, ‘We have to be silly to sign up to do what we’re doing. We signed up to look like assholes and that’s what it is’.
As I sit in front of my laptop writing this article I can practically hear the screams of outrage. Haters will continue to raise the argument; ‘but “reality television” [usually accompanied with an over-the-top, sarcastic quotation mark hand gesture] isn’t even reality!’
Ok, I hear ya. I hear what you’re saying.
Do I believe that the dishes we see the contestants serve up on Masterchef are in fact the dishes that we saw the same contestants sweating over and slapping together to beat the time limit? Nope.
Do I believe Bear Grylls has no other option but to drink his urine episode after episode otherwise he will literally perish? No.
Do I really believe that reality shows contain absolutely no scripting and are spur of the moment situations that also happen to be caught on camera? Absolutely not.
I’m not an idiot (that’s debatable, but an entirely different article so let’s just continue on). I am under no delusion that the ‘reality’ I am watching is actually how the events played out. But do you know what? I couldn’t really care less.
My theory on this matter is that if the show I am watching was pitched to me as a scripted drama or a comedy, I would watch it anyway. I get so invested in the ‘characters’ of reality TV and their story arcs throughout a season, that even if a tiny smidgen of what I’m watching is authentic and could have actually happened in real life, that’s a bonus. The fact that the stars have linear story arcs throughout a season proves the very point that these shows aren’t real, because life doesn’t really work that way anyway…
Yes, the content of these reality shows is hardly highbrow, in-depth and meaningful television with a moral at the very centre of its storyline. I agree that the episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians where Kim gets an ass x-ray to prove she didn’t get a butt implant can hardly compare to the episode of Game of Thrones where that guy got his face pushed in by that other guy. I completely agree with you, 100%. Reality TV is meaningless. It’s mind-numbing. It’s downright trash.
But, do you know what? At the end of the day, trash TV is exactly what I’m looking for. After a full day of classes at uni, a multitude of readings (that I totally did), editing this very magazine, and writing articles for assignments, I hardly want to sit down and read classical literature just before I go to sleep, only to get up and do it all again the very next day.
All I want to do after a hard day of studying is open up my cranium, take my brain out and plop it to the side for 40 minutes while I watch a television show where rich people just walk around being rich, worry about their money issues with their rich friends, and buy lots of things with all of their money. Or alternatively, a show where a bunch of strangers are forced to be in a situation I would likely never be in, and are forced to eat grubs and perform physical feats for food and shelter.
In summation, at the centre of the opposition’s argument is the fact that reality TV elevates the notoriety and status of people who are ‘famous for being famous’. However, I say this to you, snobby-SBS-watching-reader: I would argue that Kim Kardashian (sorry to pick on her, but she is the quintessential ‘famous for being famous’ poster girl), is not simply ‘famous for being famous’. She is famous for being the star of her own hit television series franchise that has been on the air for nine years. After all, Kimmy K certainly has had more than a measly 15 minutes in the spotlight. Yes, no one would know who she even is without that little home-made video that’s floating on the Internet, however, it is what it is; she’s still around and people are bitter about it.
Whatever. Haters gon’ hate.
But the fact of the matter is: it’s your fault these people are stars. If millions upon millions of people didn’t sit their asses down week after week to watch these shows then they certainly wouldn’t continue to air. Why would they, if no one was remotely interested? At the end of the day, if millions of people didn’t lap up the televised trash that fuels these stars (including buying magazines with them on the cover, or fragrances with their names attached), then we probably wouldn’t even know what a Snooki is…