By Eithne Hogan
Do you suffer from Reality TV fatigue?
Or is there still ‘the one’ surviving show you’d fiercely defend and salvage from the busted bunch of offerings left on our primetime viewing list? Is there in your home a survivor [or two] where you would passionately argue your choice as a quintessentially innovative, engrossing and intriguing reality TV programme?
To date, we have been blessed with reality offerings such as: Big Brother, I’m a Celebrity, 16 and Pregnant, X-Factor, Top Chef, The Voice, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Hell’s Kitchen, Jersey Shore, American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance, The Apprentice etc. etc. and 100s more etcs…
So if you do opt to choose, which of the many reality shows do you admit to be your primary guilty TV viewing pleasure?
And while we’re in admission mode, would you additionally agree to this programme as a consummate pleasure – even when you probably perceive it as coy, tacky, or as see through as tracing paper? And even if your better instincts tell you it’s inane and that it unashamedly encourages your most voyeuristic over indulgent mush-watching attention, do you go ahead and watch it anyway? With your attention fully dipped in nacho style or alongside a well-timed pre-arranged takeaway.
Or do you simply want to switch off and surreptitiously surrender?
How many of us continue to crave this form of unadulterated escapism? Even when we know the apparently unscripted or uncontrived drama is anything but unscripted or uncontrived but we admit we will instantaneously become addicted and as a willing victim resignedly let this show rule our lives, thoughts, debates and speculation for the upcoming 4 or 5 weeks until the grand finale and moment of the scintillating epiphany. And then simple as a finger snap, we’ll just as eagerly forget about the build-up and sparkling crescendo like a quick breath until the next time with the next season’s immediate personalised gravity and polar pull.
Well holy moly! Whoever holds the reins in this particular rodeo show really do have some awesome pulling power and major steering control, don’t they?
Reality TV as we are aware rose through our screens liking a bucking bronco. With acumen and force and appeal to gods knows only what, we’ve all – bar a tiny few actual or in denial immunes – at some stage of our viewing lives or other become transfixed to one or more of its infinite offerings. From short to long term exposure, we have all had a taste of its flavour – left it behind or struggled with its paradoxes. Reality TV, especially in the past decade-and-a-half encompasses a broad range of formats and some discrepancy in its definition. Online critics reality blurred assert authentic reality television “is a subset of nonfiction TV, which is television that involves real people, but nonfiction TV is not reality TV. In other words, reality blurred considers reality TV to be dramatic, narrative TV shows that follow real people in real or artificial contexts for a period of time. Reality TV can have a game element, and in some cases, it can even have different casts from week to week; reality television encompasses any show that focuses primarily on the human drama that results from the situations its cast members are in.”
But according to Josef Adalia, a critic of the TV format, if you “talk to unscripted producers and executives about the state of the genre in 2015, one word pops up repeatedly: fatigue. While modern reality TV is barely a teenager, and far younger than programming staples such as comedy and drama, the sheer tonnage of unscripted content produced in the past decade-and-a-half has left the people who make it — and, arguably, those who watch— struggling to recapture the excitement of a once-vibrant genre. “Reality seems tired. It seems derivative,” says one former network chief who now works in the digital world. “There hasn’t been a really loud, innovative reality show in a while.”
REALITY VERSUS REAL
And that accordingly is a worrying state of affairs. So if “Reality seems tired. It seems derivative,” where does that leave reality? Real reality I mean not the artificially constructed stuff of celebrity wannabe dreams. You know – the real reality we see in the non-fictional serious world and pointed documentaries of main stream media, current affairs programmes and otherwise clandestine coverage of primetime debate and political discussion – complete ambiguity absolutely intended. With a question: In this current state of affairs, are we as ‘viewers’ in danger of carrying this weariness and fatigue into the realms of our experiential real world? And yes I emphatically do aim to spread this concern across all the current bred and buttered generations, irrespective of whether you or your generation have dismissed this genre wholesale or have embraced it with reluctance or savoured it with absolute all-consuming and utter glee. Why do I as concerned spectator and viewer include everyone in this glossy spread, including myself? Didn’t I just state a little earlier in this piece that some of us are mercifully intact and immune from all of this separated out compartmentalised ‘nonsense’?
Yes, I did. And yes, although it is true that individually you might be immune from the onslaught of the last decade-and-a-half of TV influence; inarguably you simultaneously live in an interconnected and integrated society and stereotypical global village. And whether we all love to hate it or hate to love it; reality TV, its format and its genre is ultimately in our collective real world albeit man-made, man-nurtured and artificially man-constructed. It is living and breathing our air. And subsumed in our modern reality, Reality TV in as much as is the virtual world of the Internet and social media has in essence taken over the viewing box and now is floating into airborne cyberspace. Reality TV has basically cut the cord. Reality TV, physically-boxed has had its capitalist boom and may now be facing into its heralded capitalist bust unless it finds new forms or derivatives. And many of us in society either bought into it or were suckled in unwillingly and have been shaped by its existence and its creation.
And just like the American Western, this unforgiving rodeo show just like Coca Cola’s version of Santa Claus rode gung-ho and buckaroo straight into Dodgeville Ireland and as it arrived and gained residence here, it cleverly and mercilessly took no prisoners. Meanwhile the ratings soared.
So I think we need to ask ourselves some pertinent questions. Firstly, has some of the content of reality TV already rubbed off, spilled over and merged into a directed and staged blurred world of political directors’ bored attempts at governmental fabrication and popular reconstruction of some serious and real world political events? For example, when we view and believe we are watching the real news are we as convinced now in this modern era than we were in earlier epochs that the form and content we are watching is the real untainted news? Secondly, can we explicitly or implicitly trust now in what we see and hear as truth or fact and separate this content in confidence from rearranged and modelled fiction? And thirdly, if it is not presented as total fact but holds even partially fictionalised elements, how good are we now at detecting the blur and identifying the crossover? Considering we have been immersed in a world of blurring narratives and take it or can’t leave it fiction. In a world where reality itself is presented to us as indistinct mutation, the multiple possibilities of quantum physics and diverse subjectivity scattered with hypothetically indecipherable premises to begin with. No wonder so many of us question what is real!
Jeez, our thinking hats must have to be screwed on very tightly today or we may just find them fluttering away in the nuanced and subtlest universal breezes… Intellectually, intuitively or academically, and who knows for certain, we may already be chasing our conceptual ideological Stetsons and solid objective rationalisations through alleyways and territories of eerie tumbleweed and dangerously located debris in a real live and hard wired multitudinous technological maze and matrix. Can you fathom how acutely vigilant we need to be or to become to meet these modern day mind-boggling challenges? How as technology further advances into the harbinger of change the Internet of Everything, we may need to be policing our every most miniscule thought with checks and balances constantly in operation? Isn’t that need and outcome in itself overwhelmingly disconcerting? Without hesitance, I would think so.
And I am not even a dystopian.
So although the word conspiracy swings low in my head, I cannot help but wonder are these producers in our main stream media on a trajectory to try to sell us the excitement of a once-vibrant genre – consciously or unconsciously – in our terra firma political sphere. Ostensibly as a citizenry, we are seeking out something entirely different and unconnected to this practice and are already fed up, worn out and exasperated with reality TV fatigue and its corresponding world of artifice. So with that observation in mind, do the orchestrators of our constructed reality not know many of us have learned the artistry of how to smell out fur and fake? And have they not yet discovered one of the most learned lessons and paradoxes of Reality TV to begin with? That fact: Since the explosion of Reality TV, its genre coincidentally moulded masses of populations worldwide with the talent to discern artifice from reality as epitomised in Orwellian dreams? And fact: that we the masses achieved this mastery quite easily? How? Simple… By being thrown head first into the poorly diluted watery deep of reality television which was hewn from the same stuff of the counterfeit world of media constructs, media gimmickry and props and television’s worst extremes of ultimate forged and phoney.
And that m’lady is a deadbeat Wild Bill Hickok surethang facile phoney.
Or fact: Is it conceivable that now that it’s out there naked and fully exposed, the powers that be no longer realistically or frankly give a damn! And the awakening of so many people further excites them in their illustrious plan to rule supreme – with consent or agreement no longer an issue and all it takes is the introduction of a game plan that has simply changed formation. Cyclically, all it ever takes…
THE CIRCUS: ONLY IN AMERICA
Starting in January 2016, “Showtime will actually turn the presidential campaign into an actual reality series: a weekly, real-time documentary series following the campaign, which already has more drama and bigotry than many reality shows. The new show is appropriately titled The Circus: Inside The Greatest Political Show On Earth. The network promises “intimate, behind-the-scenes access” that “will offer viewers a look at what the public rarely sees and explore the high human drama inherent in the pursuit of the Oval Office.” However, it has not yet named which campaigns or individuals will be followed for the weekly half-hour episodes.” So here we have an extreme example, where the presidential campaign in America is becoming an actual reality show. This is so obviously the definitive merge and convergence. But it is so in your face out there that it distracts completely from the subtler forms of reality manipulation and popular ‘mind control’. For how can you match this facetiousness with a country that prides itself on being among the top powers on the planet? How can you with this in mind take seriously the role and responsibility of the American president? A role where there used to be in some cases awestruck servile deference. We are told by the creators of Showtime that “people don’t want to wait a year to see how and why things played out and the impact they had. Everything today is immediate, so there’s no better time to change the way American politics are covered.” So is this the American answer to resurrect Reality TV and squeeze its residual juices for whatever this format is worth? And can we in our Irish culture, so easily condone this practice as only ever happening in America? I’m not too sure of that one. Because sometimes we don’t have to travel too far west for the west’rn way to travel decisively and subsequently to us. And as a nation, we are not so dismissively, culturally or historically immune from this form of cultural or otherwise imperialism.
Before the Circus officially begins its stars and spangles debut, we read commentary like this from Jamie Stiehm: “Back to Trump. The Republicans may well end up with him as their standard-bearer. His true alter-ego is not found in fiction, however. Trump’s spiritual ancestor is the famed 19th century circus showman P.T. Barnum, associated with the saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” For, let’s face it, isn’t a reality show kind of a human circus? Give him this: Trump is an excellent ringmaster. But let’s not be a nation of suckers.”
Hmmmmm – Food for thought. But for now, let’s agree to lose the Trump commentary with its referenced descent into political parody and let’s just hold the relevance of the message in Ms Stiehm’s closing caution.
BUT LET’S NOT BE A NATION OF SUCKERS
Over many years, people have asked whether Irish politics will ever give rise to a bit of decent drama – not so much, political satire or parody. In Ireland drama such as plays, TV films and movies covering contemporary issues are still not as popular as political satire or comedy. It has been suggested that because we live in such a small country, when the boundaries are blurred between fact and fiction, current affairs and drama, our sensitivities are impacted and localised – especially when the subject matter includes political personalities or regional stereotyping. In contrast, we have had films/drama about communities or localities where fact and fiction is blurred and this has been met with sharp criticism from some viewers as well as high praise and positive acknowledgment of course from others. Representations of communities featuring in offerings like: The Snapper, Veronica Guerin, The Commitments and more recently in the much acclaimed series of Love Hate have been shot through with admonishments about stereotyping and a criminalising over the top top coat of cynicism and localised slur. As cited by the Irish Times, way back in 2004: five different actors in five different dramas have played one relatively minor Dublin criminal, Martin Cahill. And I have seen teenagers as recently as a couple of weeks back mimic the general’s infamous hand over face gesture. So aside from the blurred approach of fact and fiction; is our political sphere in Ireland not worthy of ‘pure’ drama? Why is it that politics here cannot escape the primary means of representation in that it appears to be a perfect fit to comedy or parody? Without being prejudicial, just as a question; how many of those same teenagers I saw would recall the dramatic fiasco surrounding Siteserv or Irish Water or more ominously the implications on Ireland after the recent Paris attacks? Well I suppose, if you’re the conductor of the orchestra and if you’re going after a youthful distraction, why not aim for the absolute and ultimate top effect? But then you ought never to so hastily assert in the same breath there are effective programmes encouraging civic pride and responsibility outside the teenage CSPE classroom or on our age appropriate screens. It’s better for some fisher-men to merely turn a convenient blind eye to the soon to be voters’ attentions and begin to reel in a new upcoming population of money-making viewing fodder and substantial ratings.
Back in 2004, the most successful political drama of the [previous] last few years [was] not a drama at all. The Tribunal Show, consisting of transcripts read verbatim from the various tribunals of inquiry. Now, on the cusp of 2016, with 5 toes almost in there; viewers of politics and continuous growing numbers are tuning into offerings such as Vincent Browne, The Week in Politics, Prime Time, RTÉ Investigates. Leaders Questions and The Oireachtas Report alongside countless YouTube clips of mesmeric Daíl proceedings – plus some.
Back in 2004, the writer of The Times unsigned article concludes by expressing the age old adage very much alive today in the drama of politics in Ireland. The continuous form and content of the programmes mentioned above have pinned this adage to the taskbar of the Irish political scene and formed its major operations, its prominent characters and their on-going attempts at political narration and fictional channelling.
You couldn’t make it up. And, it seems, you still can’t.
I’M A POLITICIAN, GET ME OUT OF HERE!
Ireland has experienced its own descent into Pinocchio politics. Our main stream media is not immune either to a little dash of dramatic gloss and febrile fabrication. And even my nose is growing on that fictitious underestimation! And here’s the nub of it. Cut directly to the chase. Our news coverage is dip-dyed in fiction and our factual content has the magnanimous colour and appeal of classic creative writing essentially because you just couldn’t make it up here on our political Irish shores. We don’t need a producer like Showcase to create a program like The Circus, American style. We already hold our own quite localised and distinctively unique Irish legalised circus. And in this circus lies the purest form of Reality TV. Remember when I said earlier that Reality TV can have a game element, and in some cases, it can even have different casts from week to week; that reality television encompasses any show that focuses primarily on the human drama that results from the situations its cast members are in. Remember? Well, the worrying part is, the majority of our cast members in the ‘I’m a Politician, Get Me Out of Here jungle’ seriously do not want to be taken out of the programme in 2016 nor are they willing to opt to leave.
Worse again, they will say, promise or do anything to remain there. Perhaps they have a little piece of the fictitious Truman Show policy protection and their life if needs must beyond reality’s disgrace or deceit holds greater value as long as they live in and spread out the acceptable political blur? One thing is certain in this unique circus evolving of late in the drama of politics in Ireland. There is a revolutionary fight back – the scale somewhat unexpected and unforeseen. The ringmaster of this circus, the cowboy and cowgirl in this particular rodeo show are losing their political grip. And the bull in the rodeo is on a massive and weighty buck back. In Ireland, Ordinary people are discerning the fur and the fake in innovative deeper and sharper ways.
Ordinary people have expressed themselves as awakened. And ordinary people cannot now afford Reality TV domesticity, TV or Internet taming or passive disengaged hibernation. So much more than politics is at stake.
I JUST WANNA BE YOUR TEDDY BEAR
There’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a teddy bear in the picture above this discussion. Personally, I’m not too sure which one today’s ‘celebrity’ politician is. But power is a funny word. And the picture might make you consider this word and its myriad interplays as it did me. Guaranteed, not all Irish politicians are involved or playing the jungle game and some of these who challenge the system are most acutely and vociferously on the side of the people and the Irish citizenry. But many of the ones remaining in the jungle have been there since 2011 from the outcome of the last general election and others are sitting complacently and timidly for now in the opposition benches. And they may argue that they just wanna be your teddy bear… One thing is sure though, 2016 with all toes barely in will bring with it the most critical election process that cannot be overestimated or stressed enough in its degree of importance in transforming Ireland. More than ever before, as we challenge ourselves with the blur and the maze of real Ireland, we must decipher all events, narration, promises, pledges, words and actions in the lead up to, during and after the general election of 2016. We must decipher fact from fiction as the orchestrators and directors of the jungle might quite callously attempt a forceful stranglehold. After all, this is our lives. It is our reality. It is our legacy and we are participant in creating it. And they are not that eager to let their positions go. So if you identify a politician playing the jungle game using parroted words such as the fabrication of recovery or the argument of stability versus chaos, dismissing or ridiculing any alternative to the FF, FG and Labour mix and match; take him or her out. Use your vote and encourage others to use theirs also. Do not continually accept the same old same old coalition circus. Demand a difference. Why? Because you the same as me have surely had enough of these deceitful, condescending, insulting and disgusting Reality TV shenanigans.
I’m a politician, get me out of here!
No problem. So you want to get out?
Off you go now Sir.