As a genre, I categorically loathe reality TV, primarily because – despite the name – there is nothing real about it. There’s a fundamental tackiness to taking a bunch of aggro, whiny, pouty ingrates and locking them in an artificial environment with arbitrary rules designed exclusively, or so it seems, to exaggerate their behaviour and turn even the most tolerable participant into a caricature, no matter the window-dressing. I hate the explotative, morbid fascination these shows generate in people; the idea of nation-wide popularity contests; the kitsch showmanship that is brought even to the least awful end of the scale, wherein gifts or new gardens are bestowed upon charity cases. Reality TV is Not My Bag, Baby, and then some.
Still, people everywhere lap it up: rich and poor, religious and secular, bright and foolish, awful and lovely, young and old alike. Despite dissenters like myself, the world at large grooves on reality TV – for the time being, at least. And supposedly, the reason for this is the human element: the fact that all the posers, princesses, whore-madonnas, mansluts, bogans, C-list celebrities, tryhards, dorks and wannabees are supposedly representative of the population, which fact ensures that the audience relates. The total non-reality of the premise is conveniently overshadowed by the illusion of real people behaving as they would normally do, if (say) they were suddenly stranded on an island, locked in a loony bin or forced to turn into real estate agents. Even the most guilty viewer tends to justify the act as ‘people watching’, or something equally pseudo-scientific. Deep down, it seems, we have a voyeristic urge to watch others of our own species at their worst.
Which is why, reading of British outcry at the fact that Craig Ewert’s death by euthenasia was aired on national television, I feel very, very angry. Because Ewert’s death – the actual, tragic realness of it – is what reality TV shys away from, and yet purports to represent: the struggle of real people to cope with real obstacles. The same nation which rejoices in Idol and Big Brother shrieks in protest at an instant of actual, meaningful reality and – God forbid – the fact that it might provoke serious thought in the audience. At the very least, such outrage should make people realise that what they’ve been watching isn’t real, and, indeed, never was; that all their cries of sensationalist vouyerism are hypocritical, given that the producers behind American Idol are capable of putting a known stalker on their show to get a rise from one of their hosts, then shrugging when she subsequently commits suicide. In what universe should a brave man’s death be viewed as more awful than that?
Wake up, Western World. Wake up, put up, shut up and watch something real. Or would that be a bit too much like caring?