Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The real deal??

. So, another series of Big Brother is almost upon us; when the first Big Brother was aired it was unquestionably 'the next big thing'. Eight years on it has grown beyond belief. Saturation coverage on E4 means that if you are bored enough you can enjoy the dubious pleasure of watching the housemates sleep - if you have nothing better to do, like sleep, at 3 am. All this is not to mention the numerous spin-offs shows in the UK and in several other countries.

Big Brother is not 'reality tv' in the pure sense of the word. How realistic is being trapped in a big house in a secret location with a group of people you have never met before? People who have experience of flatting might recognise some things in common between Big Brother and the first month or two of flatting but even that is stretching things a little. It is hardly surprising that people put in this situation often produce boring tv because it is a boring situation to be in. The housemates are deprived of what are major sources of excitement in real life like going out, for example.

When efforts are made to engineer situations it is even worse. The 'evil' house was something that was so contrived it totally failed to be entertaining and as for The Sun's efforts to encourage sex by offering money, if anybody did that in real life they would be prosecuted for solicitation. However, voyeurism can be entertaining. On a basic level most people enjoy a good gossip and the affairs of other people are a popular topic of conversation.

Entertainment to my mind is a broad concept. Generally entertainment is meant to be escapism. After all if real life was that stimulating then we would have no need of it in the first place. Of course, there is a link between the real world and the one we escape into. I will always maintain that 'human themes' underpin good fantasy or science fiction. The most mindless action film has some kind of plot even if this on a linear level.

Reality tv is an effort to straddle the gap between escapism and reality. In reality, if you will excuse the pun, what we have here is the entertainment of seeing how people cope in un-real situations and seeing people pushed to their limits. It isn't quite chariot racing or throwing people to the lions but the underlying premise is roughly the same.

Amazing Race and its ilk take the competitive element much further and make it more about the competition but at least there is a competition, relatively speaking, without judgment. Judgemental tv has it's purest expression in Simon Cowell, part-time X-Factor judge and full-time destroyer of fragile self-esteem. Nobody likes losing in any situation but losing and being put down on national TV is many peoples ultimate nightmare. However, public humiliation is often funny to other people. You could just imagine Mr Cowell being a regular tomato-thrower at the local stocks. Shows like X-factor and Britain's Got Talent are more accurately about escaping from one reality to another and here it we come full-circle to the concept of escapism.

Apart from maybe needing counselling afterwards this type of television come with other health warnings. A rash of films, EDTV and The Truman Show spring to mind, warned quite correctly about the dangers of blurring the boundaries between entertainment and reality too far. Many would contend that things would never be allowed to go that far but is it really so far-fetched that one day things would be allowed to go beyond being entertainment and stray into meddling in other peoples lives in the name of entertainment?


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