Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2003 / 1 Adar I, 5763
Hasn't 'reality TV' always been with us?
Reality television is epidemic now, they say, though I'm not entirely
sure what that means. Hasn't reality television always been with us?
news is reality --- real guys and gals talking to us in real time about
real events. Game shows feature real people winning real prizes. Blooper
shows portray actors blowing lines, just like real people. Practical
joke shows are about actors playing tricks on real people.
there are the shows in which real people live with real camera crews who
watch them do real things. Don't forget talk shows: actors acting like
real people talking in real time about their real projects and careers.
So what's new?
Well, reality television is becoming ever more strange in its
variations. It's not just ordinary people videotaped as they go about
their daily lives --- it's the Osbournes on display. Or Anna Nicole Smith,
or Liza Minelli - before she freaked. And Surreal Life! Throw a bunch of
half-remembered celebrities into a house and let them stew while the
camera's running. Or throw ordinary people on a desert island and give
valuable prizes to anybody who makes it off alive. Or double dare
ordinary people to eat bugs. Or strap them to a flaming chair and ask
them trivia questions. Ask a man a woman to choose a mate for life on
the air! Or have a bunch of women compete for a rich guy and then reveal
at the end he's really broke and psychotic.
Of course, by now it must be clear that reality television is an
oxymoron. None of these shows achieve reality, as we know it- unless
being televised is somehow necessary for reality. There's a classic
philosophical premise -- to be is to be perceived -- but I'm not sure that
videotape even existed at the time it was formulated.
But even if it its true -- to be is to be televised -- what about those
who are not televised, the watchers. Are we couch potatoes less than real?
No, we must be real, because if we're not, then nobody's watching, and
if nobody's watching, reality television doesn't exist. Q.E.D. Come to
think of it, philosophy has its consolations after all.
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JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2001, Ian Shoales