We’ve all seen at least one of them in our lives, whether it involves a selection of Australian adults failing at cooking elaborate meals for judges with unreasonably high expectations, an assortment of overweight lounge-lizards burning off obesity while being pestered by personal trainers who probably took a three-week course with R. Lee Ermey, or a trio of fabulously wealthy and intelligence-deficient socialites muddling their way through sex tapes and failed relationships with men whose IQ could rival a brick wall’s.
Reality television. Or, as it is also known, the scourge of modern entertainment.
Ever since offerings like Survivor and Temptation Island started popping up back in the 90s reality television has become inexplicably popular. Well, that’s not true, there is an explanation – or, rather, several – but it still doesn’t make sense of the overall idiocy of having these shows as popular as they are in the first place. Because of these fly-on-the-wall pieces of semi-scripted shit, the entertainment industry is setting itself up for failure as it homogenizes its content into dreary, unstimulating piles of tripe.
I’ve already covered my intense distaste for wrestling as it muscles out good science fiction, so I won’t delve into that today. Other stations, however, seem to be adopting the policy of knocking off actually decent shows in favour of bigger, better ratings from the dull and repetitive nature of garbage likes Jersey Shore and American Idol (and seriously, how many of those are we going to have? Who remembers any really good Idol since Kelly Clarkson?). Online content seems to be the only refuge for great, artistic creation these days, and even that’s starting to be monopolised by reality webisodes of fake-tanned bimbos whinging about how their brick boyfriend doesn’t want to have a threesome with their other brick boyfriend.
The simple reason for this comes down to one word; schadenfreude. For those of you not familiar with Avenue Q, it’s a German term that basically refers to experiencing happiness at the misfortune of others. So many of these shows deal with people in bad, awkward, embarrassing or downright stupid scenarios, scripted or otherwise, and we can comfort ourselves by watching them and going “Well, thank God my life isn’t as crappy as all that” or “Jeez, I’m glad I’m not that obese” or, my personal favourite, “Oh my God, I’m so glad I don’t have Kim’s life right now!”
I admit, I sometimes find it difficult to tear my gaze away when Tabitha is yelling at another hair salon owner for allowing their employee to turn up to work with neon pink hair, and there is a certain perverse glee to be taken from seeing people in what we’d think to be real situations getting trauma administered like the most melodramatic soap opera around. But on the whole, all it’s doing is setting a bad standard for what is and isn’t acceptable to fill up a late night slot as what can be loosely classified as “entertainment”.
On a related note, the PR that most reality shows utilise is nothing more than a bunch of stupid people eating up headlines that could’ve been used for something meaningful and informative. Intelligent news readers should be more interested in stories about medical breakthroughs in the fight against cancer, or about the latest natural disaster to rip through a third-world country that tugs at your heartstrings. They shouldn’t want to see the day’s top story being anything about two jaded and bitter reality TV shitfaces being drawn into a massive divorce battle proving one never had real feelings for the other and was in it for the money and the fame.
Or maybe I’m just talking about the Labor Party now.