Posts Tagged ‘Reality TV’

I’ve been pretty silent lately on the subject of news and popular culture, not because there’s been a dearth of commentworthy topics, but because I’ve been singletracked by a pesky plot point in Book the Second. With the cancellation of Dance Your Ass Off, however, I can no longer remain silent. The time has come again to get my whinge on.

For those of you who’ve long since burned your TV guides, abandoned the internet and turned your unplugged plasma screens into a lightweight building material (and who are therefore presumably reading this via telepathy, the secret transmitters in your fillings or the subether waveband), Dance Your Ass Off was intended as a reality TV cross-pollination of Dancing With The Stars and The Biggest Loser, viz: fat people dancing competitively in order to lose weight.

Process that for a moment, if you can.

In what should come as a shock to absolutely nobody on the face of the Earth, ever, the show has been cancelled after one episode. However, in what should count as the jusitifcation for the extinction of the human species should a race of eccentric aliens ever point a space-based laser cannon at our fair globe and demand a moral accounting of our foibles, no less than one million Americans still watched the debut episode.

Process that for a moment, if you can.

In today’s news, the executives of Oxygen, the channel on which Dance Your Ass Off aired, explained the modus operandi behind a show which Absolute Power’s Charles Prentiss and Martin McCabe might very well have dreamed up in one of their more cynical moments – which is saying something – thusly: “that dance and diet were two areas of interest for younger viewers, so combining both themes into one show made sense.”

Process that for a moment, if you can.

This is more than stupidity. This is bot logic. The independent popularity of two things in no way suggests that they should be combined, unless your are a crazy person. Just because the human race currently needs oil and water to survive doesn’t mean we should try and blend them into a single super-substance that we both drink and use for fuel. Ice-cream and steak are both pretty good, but would you serve them together? (Note: lovers of chicken fried steak and twinkies aren’t allowed to answer that question.) I mean, seriously. The satire practically writes itself.

Unless, God help us all, you are Oxygen’s senior VP of original programming and development, Amy Introcaso-Davis, who said of the show that “if you have five pounds to lose or 150 pounds to lose, it’s something you think about all day long.”

Message for Oxygen: you’re so concerned with weight loss? Why not trim the Goddam fat from your upper management circles. Make them dance through the boardroom as they leave. Dangle the possibility of rehiring if they can demonstrate that they have had a single original, nonsensical thought since 2000, or at all. Film everything secretly, then air it.

It’s not like you haven’t made worse  programming decisions.

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?

Returning home just now, I found my husband watching television. This isn’t particularly striking or unusual; rather, it was the image of Jason Donovan trying to breathe through a bowl of bugs which caught my immediate attetion. I stopped, stared, put down my shopping. After a moment, a snake was added to the mix. It’s worth noting that the bowl was actually on his head, like a giant glass diving-helmet, and as this new length of pululating reptile was dropped into the already-seething mixture of moths, cockroaches and other such anthropodian delights, Donovan physically staggered, lurching about the jungle clearing like a panic-stricken wildebeast.

After a minute, the bowl was removed. Gasping, spluttering, Donovan brushed frantically at his face and clothing, sending a cascade of insects scuttling away into layers of leaf litter (the snake, miraculously, vanished without trace). One ear was bleeding. Laughing uproariously, two hosts – this being, after all, reality TV – congratulated him on surviving such a thoroughly gross experience. Dazed and more cheerful than is perhaps reasonable, Donovan staggered off, shortly to be replaced by a slender woman singing karaoke in a glass box. Once during every song, buckets of oil, straw, cockroaches, dung, moths and/or pollen were tipped on her from above, the purpose of which – the hosts gleefully announced – was to distract her from singing. (The less said about this, the better.)

The show, for those who are morbidly curious, is called I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!. Even were one to ignore the fact that it airs on Channel 10 in the middle of Sunday afternoon, it dosn’t take more than a half-second of viewing for the words ‘downswing of a mediocre career’  to come to mind.

After an ad break, Donovan was interviewed about his reasons for coming on the show. ‘Well, you know,’ he said, ‘I think it’s good for my kids to see their dad doing something….interesting.’

Very interesting,’ said the hosts, not without irony.

All of which begs the question: is this a step down from Neighbours, or – just maybe – a step up?