Saturday, August 20, 2011

Reality Bites Back

The Loud Family was a typical American family. In 1970, they allowed a documentary team to set up cameras in their home to film them as they went about their daily lives. The documentary titled "An American Family" aired in 12 episodes on PBS in 1973. Originally intended to be a chronicle of the daily life of an American family, the documentary ended up proving that people will change their behavior to "play to the camera" and ended up with breaking the Loud Family apart.

That was then, and this is now. Okay, I am about to make a confession that may shock you and quite possibly make you think less of me...

I watch reality shows. No, no...it's worse. I don't watch the singing and dancing shows. I watch the really hideous, mind numbing ones. Okay, here it goes. I have been known to watch The Real Housewives of [fill in the blank]. It started innocently enough. Just a little Orange County Housewives, no harm done. As the brand expanded, I became a little bit hooked. I looked at them like I would any National Geographic documentary of exotic animals. In this case the animals are extremely rich women with too much botox and time on their hands and egotistical enough to think people are interested in their lives. Well, apparently they...er...we are. If you've never seen one, the premise revolves around an extremely rich/idol group of "friends" who allow themselves to filmed so the public can get a glimpse of what happens behind those gates in upscale, McMansioned communities. The women who sign up for these shows are caste to "type" - overly botoxed, surgically enhanced, mostly bleached blonds with unlimited credit cards and hours of idle time on their hands. Their children are props and their husbands are dispensable.

The first group of "Real Housewives" was an interesting study of the idle Nouveau Riche. You know, that class of rich that buy exclusive labels, expensive vacations, and high fashion. They don't care much for intellectual pursuits like "education". In the beginning, they were more "natural" and diplomatic in their opinions of each other. After the first table was thrown, all bets were off.

Because of the success of the Orange County show, the producers saw a gold mine and expanded to New York - same idea, just different accents. Then came another expansion to Atlanta which opened up the brand to the idle rich of color. Then came New Jersey, Beverly Hills, DC, and Miami. With each new iteration, the shows developed a marketable formula and a defined cast of characters - the Mean One, the Nice One, the Successful One, the Singer who can't hold a tune, the Fashion Designer who can't design, etc. All the women involved have become a new level of "famous". They make the entertainment gossip pages, and are invited to the "best" parties and openings for no other reason than they allow themselves to be filmed - no talent needed. It sounds great, but there is a darker side.

The reality of reality is that "fame" is not all it's cracked up to be. In the beginning, it must be fun that everyone knows your face and name. But as these women and men found out, the real reality is that the deep, dark secrets of your life are laid bare for ratings. The unflattering, private moments that you thought you could hide like a former life as a prostitute, failing marriages and businesses are now fodder for the masses. The arrests, depleted bank accounts, bankruptcy proceedings and the foreclosure auctions to sell the McMansion and contents including that $16,000 hand-made leather handbag you bought on Episode 10 are all now in the public domain. But the ultimate reality occurred this week when the estranged husband of one of the Beverly Hills "wives" committed suicide. He was so afraid that his failing business and private sexual proclivities would be used as fodder on the show, that he hanged himself with an electrical cord in his McMansion rather than face the ridicule. Now that's reality. At this time, the producers are pondering whether to air the show this season. That's Hollywood in a nutshell and I stress the "nut" part. My question to these now "famous" women is "Has your 15 minutes of fame really been worth it?"

Addendum: Just to ease your minds, I stopped watching the shows after they started with the obvious formulas, and scripted violence and table throwing. What was once and interesting study in human nature became an unwatchable mess. And it really was fascinating to watch someone without an iota of guilt, purchase a $16,000 hand-made leather handbag for no other reason than they wanted it!

16 comments:

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: You're braver than I am. I have never watched a single "reality" program, and don't intend to start now. The previews alone have kept me away.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I had the same issue with Survivor. The first season, it was really interesting because no one knew what "role" they were supposed to play, so you got an really fascinating mix of people all being themselves, playing this game.

But by season 2, they already began to adopt roles. And by later seasons, they had basically become unpaid actors playing parts that had been written by all the prior shows. So I stopped watching.

The other thing I noticed was how fake everything seemed in the world of "reality" tv. For example, the cameras would somehow be there at the exact moment something happened, even when we're talking about someone supposedly making an unexpected phone call to someone else.... the moment the other person picks up, the camera crew is already there, the lighting is on and they are in full makeup. Well, surprise, surprise, it turns out that they recreate many of the moments you see until they get them right for production purposes. Also, it turns out the producers are encouraging particular types of strife. Hence, the whole thing is a fraud.

That's why I stopped watching all these shows.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew: you are absolutely right. It has become manufactured "reality". I gave up after the "spinoff" reality shows. At first they were fun and I really mean it that I was fascinated with the money these women could spend without guilt. I lived vicariously through their outrageous spending. It's shopping porn!

But it has now become who crazy can they act and there is no limit to the crazy.

BevfromNYC said...

LawHawk: I am a recovering reality show watcher. It started with Anna Nicole Smith. All I could think is why would someone go out of their way to let people know how unstable you are? It was sad and pathetic. BUT I couldn't divert my gaze from the train wreck...

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, "Shopping porn" LOL! I can imagine.

I think reality tv started off with the right idea, but quickly settled on a formula that I really want nothing to do with. It was interesting when it was real people involved in strange situations. But by now it all just feels so scripted. Even when they come out with some new show, the people know right away how they are supposed to act. So you can't even get reality tv when it's new anymore. So I'd rather stick to reality shows like Dirty Jobs.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew: Now it's an "industry". I think reality shows have really helped the "social networking" industry too. People post their every thought and, weirdly, photos of their dinner and other people comment. Everyone has their own "reality show" on Facebook now.

DUQ said...

Bev, I gave up on "Reality TV" when MTV's Real World jumped the shark. What started as kind of an interesting show turned into a bunch of exhibitionists just looking to get on camera.

Cheryl said...

Bev:

Excellent point about social networking.
I never thought of it that way.

BevfromNYC said...

Cheryl = Facebook and Twitter are great tools to keep in touch and sharing with family and friends. I have reconnected with many people from my past that I am thrilled to reconnect with.

But there is that group of people who find themselves so fascinating that they need to share their every thought bubble with the world. It is amazing how many people post pictures of the food they eat!

Twitter is just a blight on humanity. No good can come from knowing someone's every thought.

ScottDS said...

The one good thing to come out of all this is The Soup which is appointment viewing for me every Friday night and I constantly marvel at the clips they show. (I realize Talk Soup had existed for years.)

I can't speak for Real Housewives but when I worked as a PA on an episode of The Simple Life, I didn't know how to react when I was introduced to the "writers" of the show. In reality TV, writing is more editing and culling through hours of footage to craft some kind of narrative. And everything was fake. There was a production designer and an art director who dressed up locations and a lot of it was seat-of-your-pants production.

And yes, they're all about archetypes. I think this even affects shows like American Idol. Sometimes the question isn't, "Can he/she sing?" It's, "Will they look good on TV?"

Of course, I have Destroyed in Seconds playing on the Science Channel in the background so it doesn't take much to entertain me. :-)

Ed said...

Bev, I have tried things like American Idol and Nashville Star, but they bored me after a while, but I've never bothered with the more salacious reality tv shows.

Scott, I would love to see someone do a documentary on reality tv and see all the behind the scenes fakeness. They did it for magicians, so why not reality tv?

BevfromNYC said...

Scott: I would use the Housewives shows as background noise until they started screaming at each other. I've never gotten into the "American Idol" or "Survivor". I've watched the skill shows - The Apprentice, Project Runway and Top Chef, but even they have settled into a pattern. I think any reality show has a production life of maybe 2 seasons. After that, the pattern and "types" settle in.

T-Rav said...

Gross. The only reality show I have ever watched much of was "The Amazing Race," which I only found interesting because of the history and geography that got thrown in. I haven't even watched that in a long time, though.

Don't get me started on freaking "Housewives." I watched a few episodes of the Atlanta version with some roommates of mine once, and...I'll choke back three or four other things I'd like to say and simply note that in no world can those women be regarded as true "housewives," so the entire show is based on false premises.

I'm glad you stopped watching. Otherwise I might have had to make a few threats involving...well, you know what.

BevfromNYC said...

T-Rav. There's enough cattiness on all the "Housewives" show to keep your "special" talent occupied for weeks!

Cheryl said...

The only reality show I watch is The Biggest Loser. Now you've got me wondering how much of that is fake.

Those people don't seem to be typed and I think they genuinely care about each other (most of the time) and hate voting each other off the show.

BevfromNYC said...

Cheryl I think shows like the Biggest Loser are different from "reality shows" and I don't think they are faked. The villian in the Biggest Loser is the weight v. the contestants, not the contestants v. contestant. And in fact everyone on the show is a winner because they all beat the villian even if it's just 20 lbs.!

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