I. Reality Television
Photography has the main characteristic of freezing the moment (the present). The cinema has brought, for the very first time in mass media history, the illusion of movement of an actual frozen moment. Television will then go further. Along with videotapes and VCRs, television comes closer to the receptor. The reality shows will be discussed in this project as being an important section of this entire complexity – the media television.
The meaning of the word ‘real” found in the dictionary is: “existing as a thing or occurring as a fact; not imagined or supposed: real and imagined fears, illnesses, achievements”. Reality show or reality television is an old term, which refers to any television entertainment program made by images of real competition, true car accidents, rescue, challenges, and exposures, which evolves somehow real participants. They present a variety of contents and different forms to attract specific group of viewers.
This project intends to offer a simple comprehension of real television. This type of TV entertainment program will be seen as a serious trend in American media. Nonetheless it is not a new concept. It is being explored on TV since 1950s with quiz shows such as 21 and Jeopardy. There has been a revival of the idea. It seems to be produced by almost every network and cable channel. Reality television of our time has its own aesthetics, which differs from those of the early TV. Why have they become extremely popular? That is the subject of our research.
II.Television of 2000’s – Images of All Times
Television set brought to our household what used to be an outdoors habit – observation. Humans have practiced it since ancient history. To watch TV is directly related to this capacity of looking at the elements of nature, scenes of a theater play, or facts of distant cultures. Images are means to connect us to an imaginary world. Therefore television, photography, motion picture and computer screens are so attractive and extremely interesting. It is fun to watch it as well as to study about it.
This form of media is a development of the motion picture screen. Television has not only witnessed all changes of the society and transmitted facts of human history, but also it has influenced them. This is why is so important to discuss it as an instrument of communication, or more specifically, mass communication.
Due to advances in technology (production, edition, and others) and the search for greater audience, this type of media must change constantly. Television language has manifested today what it was not there fifteen years ago: reality TV. In general form, real television is the symbol of modernity. Its success is brought by its nature – INTERACTION. The 80s had produced the video games, which was the only way an audience could interact with television. Not anymore.
Quiz TV shows have had popularity since television was produced alive. Nevertheless, quiz shows of 2000s present different structure. It is more cruel, darker (the sets tend to be black, and the TV hosts usually dress in black). The so-called REALITY SHOWS are boosting higher rates of audience. To advertise during those shows has become almost as expensive as to advertise during the Superbowl (Rolling Stone Magazine).
It is unquestionable the popularity of shows as “Big Brother”, “Jackass”, “The Chair”, “Cops”, and many others. Marshall McLuhan said that television is a cool medium: “A cool or low literacy culture cannot accept hot media like movies or radio as entertainment. They are, at least, as radically upsetting for them as the cool TV medium has proved to be for our high literacy world”. McLuhan states that because TV requires not only the hearing and vision of the audience, but also the audience’s mind. Reality TV, consequently, requires that and the audience’s psychoses, fears, intelligence, anxiety, and curiosities. In this sense, it may be said that reality TV is an icebox.
III.From George Orwell’s “Big Brother” to Dave Carnie’s “Big Brother”
The rhythm of the capitalist life has accelerated television aesthetics. Television language is characterized by its pulsation. The time frame of an emission is counted by seconds. TV is constantly in a hurry because its time is expensive. There is also more violence in real life; therefore there is more violence in real TV.
It has said that television is the “window of the world”. But are we seeing the world through this window? Or the truth would be that this window is actually watching us, as Big Brother. Who has read the fiction book “1984” (also depicted in film) knows what Big Brother stands for. This expression brings in itself everything of what reality shows are: a concentration camp, full of rules, full of losers, that at the end throws to the audience the deepest feeling of emptiness.
For so many years television makers have preoccupied in constructing a simulation of reality. We are now seeing a new era of entertainment shows. We are having the opportunity to watch a type of television, which does not need sets or make-up. Think of “Cops”, which chases happen on the real streets and the blood is as warm as yours is. The reality show has the commitment of bringing the real life to your home, not a simulation of it. But let’s say the truth, no one in the western world eats bug or sleeps with snakes in the real life.
Television audience has been entertained by watching him or herself being suffocated, challenged, hurt, or humiliated. Reality shows present differences and similarities in their form and content. To understand them, it is going to be listed a categorization of reality shows:
A. Competition type of reality shows: Examples are “Temptation Island”, “Survivor”, “Big Brother”, “Fear Factor”, “Boot Camp”, “Bachelor”, etc. In this type of real TV, competitors are regular people, although most of them search career on television or celebrities are invited to attend the show. They learn and must follow the rules of the game, which usually consists in eliminating one or more competitor by the end of each presentation. These shows tend to last one or two seasons and its competitors normally become rich and famous after the show ends.
B. Quiz type of reality shows: “Who wants to be a millionaire,” “Weakest Link,” “The Chair,” “Jeopardy,” are few examples. This type is definitely the oldest. Shows like “The price is right” and “Hollywood Squares” also fit in this category. The home audience is directly interacted with these shows for trying to answer the questions along with the TV competitors. The prize is often cash and losers are important to emphasize the realism.
C. Violent type of reality shows: These are examples: “Maximum Exposure”, “Cops”, “Jackass”, and few others. Shows from this category don’t require competitors. It is based on violent scenes, either promoted by criminals, or promoted by curiosity of its hosts. Videos are presented showing real people (not doubles) being hurt, burned, beaten, or just practicing dangerous stunts. John Knoxville is one of the host, producers, and let’s say, victim of the MTV’s “Jackass”. In an interview for the Rolling Stone Magazine he explains the success of his show: “we’re working toward a common goal, doing what most people wish they could do, or wants to see someone else doing it.”
D. Curiosity type of reality shows: “The Osbournes”, “America’s Most Wanted”, “Dateline”, and talk shows comprise this type of reality TV. Their characteristic lies on creating and satisfying the audience’s curiosity, hence the name. These programs are popular for bringing to viewers a different routine or different lifestyle. It amazes to understand the mind of a criminal or to check how celebrity lives. Illnesses and rare diseases are also explored in these shows, as in the talk show “Maury”. This specific kind of reality television has been subject of good films such as “ED TV” and “The Truman Show”. Since this category presents a more opened definition, it may fit as well shows such as “Oprah”, “Montel”, “Crossing Over”, “Jerry Springer”, “Jenny Jones”, “Judge Judy” and so on.
IV. The answer of its popularity
The structure of television has always been based upon a dichotomy between reality and fiction. Umberto Eco was the first mass media critic to defend that television no longer raises a division between fiction and non-fiction. According to Ciro Marcondes Filho (a Brazilian television critic of a national newspaper), television still contains the classic duality real/non-real. But it is presented in a different level. He believes that in television, the focus is what locates in front of and behind the cameras.
The huge popularity of reality TV or reality shows is caused by its capacity of melting the screen, which separates the viewer from the show itself. A TV set must be part of everyone’s life, as well as TV shows must give a piece of someone else’s life. The “window of the world” is now literally throwing at our face what our world is made of; it is showing what we are capable to do to grab a great amount of cash.
TV had produced live shows for so many years, before videotapes became possible. Every line and detail of the set would be thought, studied, and practiced as many times as necessary to avoid embarrassments (with the audience, TV hosts, and sponsors). The audience was unquestionably seen and treated with tremendous respect. This project has no intention to underestimate the efforts, which may take to produce shows such as “Survivor”, or “Fear Factor”. But theses TV programs don’t seem to offer deeper thoughts of what reactions they might cause when they present people drinking cups of animal blood.
The success of reality television must be seen as phenomenon. Quiz shows of the 50s provedthat its power would expand and dominate the largest numbers of the television industry. Television set has been considered an indispensable home appliance. Our society cannot accept life without it. It is believed that TV helps relieving stress and it is an effective instrument of education. It calms down children and diminishes the solitude of retired seniors.
Obviously reality shows are not able to promote those aims. Therefore, the target audience of these programs is teenagers, young adults, and adults. The viewers firmly embrace this new approach, by watching it, and purchasing products that may sponsor the shows. The remote control and the need of interaction must have caused the fall of quality in television, as well as the rise of reality TV.
This media is not allowed to be tedious. It also can’t exist without financial support. Reality shows have become so lucrative because it is not tedious. Reality television has explored the idea of IMPACT. TV of 2000s has to shock and it has to invite the audience to be part of the bestiality.
V. LAST THOUGHTS
This project has tried to develop a critical discussion about the popularization of reality TV shows. Its main goal was to answer the question: why does everyone want to watch “Survivor”? I have faith that the answer is not only achieved, but also promoted something that I would call a study of American television of our times.
Few materials gave support to this research, such as magazines articles, and college mass media publications. Its author created the categorization of the reality shows. Since it is a rustic materialization of my own thoughts, I wish to develop this topic in a further research thesis. By separating them in categories, I gave a practical and easy form to present its similarities and differences.
Reality television must be seen as an old idea, which has returned, remodeled, and become the latest trend in American media. There was a need to define it, in order to comprehend the popularity of these shows. This project wants to be explanatory, not a negative description of this type of TV production. The discussion was purely based in what I have observed in those shows – in its aesthetics and contents.
IV. Works Cited and References
Books and Magazine Article
Eco, Umberto. Travels in Hyperreality. New York: Harcourt Brace &Company, 1999.
McLuhan, Marshall. Undestanding Media. London: The MIT Press, 6th Ed., 1997.
Serva, Lea. Babel: Midia Antes do Diluvio nos Ultimos Tempos. Sao Paulo: Editora Mandarin, 1997.
Filho, Ciro Marcondes. Televisao. Sao Paulo: Editora Scipione, 1994.
Hedeggar, Erik. “Jackasss: TV’s New Gross Out Hit.” Rolling Stone Magazine, issue 861, February, 2001.
Movies and Fiction:
“The Truman Show”
“Survivor”, “Fear Factor”, “Jenny Jones”, “Jerry Springer Show”, “Oprah”, “Jackass”, “The Osbournes”, “Cops”, “60 Minutes”, “Dateline”, “Boot Camp”, “Who wants to be a millionaire?”, “The Chair”, “Weakest Link”, “Maury Show”, “Montel”, “Judge Judy”, “Murder in Small Town X”, “Bachelor”, “Temptation Island”, “Lost”, “The Osbournes”, “Amazing Races”, “Hollywood Squares”, “21”, “The Price is Right”, “Jeopardy”, and any other show, which evolves real competitors or participants.
This paper was developed for a course at Saint Petersburg College, where I got an Associate in Arts degree in Liberal Arts!