'Reality' Television

by Ben Selznick | 1/4/06 6:00am

It seems that every time I turn on the television these days, all I see are so-called "Reality TV" programs like the popular "Survivor," the just plain gross "Fear Factor" or the awkward situation creating "Mom Swap." These shows have received the label 'Reality Television' because, unlike traditional television programs that employ actors reading scripts (so 20th century) to entertain us, these shows pick random, real people off the streets to be in their shows. But, I question, how real are 'Reality' TV shows and whose reality do they actually reflect?

Now, call me boring, say I don't get out much, but I can say for certain that these shows do NOT reflect my reality. Maybe some people go off to deserted islands, get divided up into teams, and have to do random challenges to earn immunity on their way to cash prizes. Maybe, also, some people have to sit in tubs of squirming bugs on their way to cash prizes. But that's just not me. Like most, I'd say, I work for my "cash prizes" where and when I can in less made-for-TV circumstances such as Dartmouth's own Pavilion eatery.

Perhaps it is the "made-for-TV' nature of these shows which ultimately makes them not as 'real' as they present themselves to be. I mean, you've seen the way people act when a camera is put in front of them. Heck, think of the way you act when a camera is put in front of you! Is that who you really are? Or, are you playing to the camera?

Come to think of it, there have been shows which closer resemble my reality--but they aren't necessarily what you'd call 'Reality TV' shows. One example is "The Wonder Years." Though I didn't grow up in the sixties and didn't have a crush named Whinny who lived next door, I can definitely relate to young Kevin Arnold as he wades through the often troubling waters of middle-school existence; asking girls out, dealing with over-protective parents, going to class when I didn't want to, all while having a few good friends at my side. This show, which relied on it's the strength of its scripts, the talents of its actors, just somehow seems to closer reflect my reality than having a female leather-jacket, Harley Davidson driving woman suddenly become my mom.

And yet, everywhere I go, there they are! Not only are they on the TV, but they seem to preoccupy conversation amongst friends, on the radio, and, most disparagingly, on other TV stations. Such wonderful sentences as "Did you see how that guy ate termites and then booted all over the stage?" or "Imagine having a camera all the time on you in your house?" conjure up images that I simply don't wish to have conjured. What adds further pieces of wood to my fiery frustration is that these conversation are taken as seriously, or frighteningly more seriously, than what I consider pressing global events. I mean really, who wants to talk about global warming or government corruption when we can talk about who will become America's next top model.

Is this a rant against these shows? Not entirely. These shows can be entertaining, fun for the whole family, and, as anyone who watches them regularly will tell you, particularly addictive because at the end there is usually a 'winner' of sorts who leaves with those all-important cash prizes. It is, however, my launching of a campaign (join the bandwagon!) to stop calling these shows, which put people in artificial environments and situations, 'Reality TV' because, in the end, they aren't all that real. How 'bout we call them, oh I don't know, what they really are; game shows that last a season instead of an episode. Yeah, that'll do.