My wife watches a lot of reality television. “A lot” mostly means “more than I do” and since I don’t really watch any that counts, right? Her preferences seem to gear more towards anything fashion-related or anything with the word “Jersey” in the title, along with the occasional MTV competition show.
I’m not really a fan. See, my wife is not really a geek. She likes some high fantasy, such as the works of Tolkien or Game of Thrones, she loves Harry Potter, and she’s seen two-thirds of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but that’s probably about it. We do have many a television show we will watch together, such as Mad Men or Breaking Bad, but I knew the member of her family I could hook onto Orphan Black was her brother, not her.
Now, my wife will generally point out that she does learn stuff about how behind-the-scenes stuff works, or what its like to be part of a group she doesn’t belong to, like really rich people or the awful people on Jersey Shore. That’s fair, I suppose, but here’s my take on reality shows in general:
They tend to bring out the most self-centered people.
Reality shows feature supposedly ordinary people on camera doing…whatever it is the show requires. Pleasing angry British people. Dating washed up rock stars. Dating washed up rap stars. Being a little person. Except keep in mind, no matter how sweet and humble the person appears on camera, they actively chose to be on the show. Some part of them agreed to let a camera crew follow them around, probably in the name of getting famous, or at least getting paid to pretend to be themselves. There also seems to be something about these shows to bring out the worst behavior in the people who somehow really make the show.
And yes, I meant “pretend,” because…
Not the same way you might think. I don’t believe the whole thing is scripted, and if it was, the casts must be bad actors. I do believe certain scenarios are set up in advance. People who miraculously show up at the right time to cause a problem. Trips and outings with friends that apparently only include the people already on the show, because apparently they don’t really know anyone else. I do think some shows are coached, but having a camera set up inside before someone shows up somewhere means the cameraman at least knew where the reality star was going.
A certain amount of the arguments and conflicts are worked out in advance. The fights sometimes seem just too convenient.
If you want to really know what part of the manipulation bothers me the most, well…
The confessionals are irritating.
Just about every reality show has the confessional, the private camera shot of the cast member talking head just addressing the home audience while alone. These seem to run the gamut from describing the obvious for people too dumb to realize what’s happening on the TV right in front of them, or they show people saying the cattiest things about other cast members while those other cast members are not in the room to hear it.
Besides, the manipulation doesn’t stop after the taping is done.
Storylines need to be created.
When raw footage has to go into the editing suite, the producers have to take the chats, arguments, and downright dull moments and put them into something resembling a story arc. Now, my own life doesn’t work that way, and the average reality show runs about 45 minutes out of an hour. That means we’re only seeing the highlights and what the producers want us to see, to make lives seem more interesting.
This is especially true for competitions. Project Runway‘s producers have to take several hours of footage and whittle it down to something much smaller, to create drama when the designers probably barely speak to each other for long periods of time depending on how into their work they are.
Maybe the worst for manipulation was The Hills on MTV. What little I’ve seen of that show would show two cast members sit down. One would have a problem with a third person who isn’t present. The conversation would then go something like this:
First Cast Member: I’m having a problem with [person not present]. We used to be friends but now we are having an unspecified problem.
Second Cast Member: That sucks!
First Cast Member: I think I’m just going to do this plan I thought up before we sat down.
Second Cast Member: That’s a good idea! You should do that!
First Cast Member: Thanks! I am so glad we talked.
That’s some in-depth discussion right there.
Now, I will admit to liking one thing from my wife’s choices of programming: Project Runway guru Tim Gunn is super-charming and he earned top credit from me for telling Jon Stewart once that in the grand scheme of things, fashion doesn’t matter. He seems like a real peach.
Now, I know reality television is generally cheap to put on. People love this stuff too, or else TLC would still be The Learning Chanel and not the “Be Glad This Isn’t You” Chanel. But personally, I could do without.
At least we’ll have Better Call Saul in my household very soon.