We've been bombarded with a deluge of "reality shows" by now, so I thought I'd compile what I've, er, learned from them. After all, this is a fairly recent phenomenon, and I have a feeling that future social scientists will study our (by then) primitive habits and look back at this era with a mixture of pity and revulsion. And probably laughter.
Jeff Probst (the host) takes us on various island settings, along with about 16 (or so) contestants, who, by virtue of their surroundings, have to be in various states of undress the whole time. They are fighting over a million US dollars, and they have to perform various physical and mental challenges to determine the winner. In underwear. While the concept of starvation (contestants have to look for their own food and prepare them) and physical exhaustion are serious red flags to contend with, I think the show is mostly anchored on two things humans are endlessly fascinated with: bitch fights and wannabe underwear models.
Alliances are formed within "tribes" in order to eliminate the competition or threats. If you're too strong or too smart, the others have to find a way to kick you out (the elimination process called "tribal council"), where people have to explain why they don't like you in gory detail. (Recipe for bitch fighting assured.) And again, they still have to be in underwear mode.
In effect, this isn't a "case study of human evolution" (as I saw in one blog's comments before, on how to describe the show). This is a celebration of mediocrity. In underwear.
A group of "housemates" are recruited and "forced" to live together in one house. Similar to Survivor, contestants have to perform various "tasks". The show becomes interactive (and lucrative) due to the "voting" aspect: while contestants themselves determine 2-4 members who they deem "unworthy" of continuing the "journey", TV viewers get to text their preferences on who to "save".
Having seen both versions (US and Philippines), I can say that the most important quality one has to get into the show is a better than average physical make-up (either by face or by body). If you don't have those qualities, you are either typecast as the joker, the brooder or the anomaly ("what the heck is s/he doing there?!?"), the better to have more drama with.
Locally, I read through a comment in a newspaper, praising the first winner of Pinoy Big Brother as a "hero". Unless we've redefined that word, I really don't see how tryng to gain people's votes and sympathies with a sob story and panning for the camera for a month - 2, tops - in the hopes of getting 15 more minutes of fame and a cash prize can be considered "heroic".
The Simple Life
Paris Hilton. Nicole Richie. Cow Dung.
No, that wasn't a mean equation (adding the first 2 producing the last one). It's where they expected the two, uhm, actresses (by actress, we mean "someone in a TV show, period") to dig their stillettos in.
The show follows the two socialites in their (mis)adventures in rural life, trying to buy groceries, milking a cow, and other activities regular people don't make a big fuss about, because - I don't know, there isn't any need to make a big deal about activities of daily living?!? The plus side of this show is that both "actresses" know they are in for the silly factor and have no pretensions to "greatness", just media mileage. In a strange way, that somehow makes them a little more likeable than the other pretenders in this genre.
And the poster girls for this generation's obsession with fame for its' own sake.
America's Next Top Model
Tyra Banks, having seen "better days" as a model (read: she is now deemed "fat" by the industry that spawned her), parlays her experience into running a successful reality show, where wannabes (I know this is gramatically incorrect, as my English teacher Ms. Liwanag would always remind us, but given the topic, this is totally appropriate) show up to be judged on their "modeling ability", requiring them to pose with scorpions, on top of a glacier, etc.
While I do not presume to know the "travails" of a professional model, what I've learned from the show is that models get to sit around all day waiting for their "moment" while make up artists scurry about them, gossiping till kingdom come, and no one needs to exercise, since everyone seems to be genetically emaciated. Yes, Tyra made an effort to put in plus-size models, but that lasted for all of 1 (or is it 2?) seasons. And since this show is up to something like 15 seasons (or even more), that pretty much says that "only sticks need apply".
And the judging process is a phenomenon by itself. A small 2 degree tilt of the head would have made a world of difference. Or showing one less tooth in the smile would have made it a "cover". If ever there was an argument against the tyranny of beauty, this would be it.
More than a dozen women or men applying to be your "soul mate". On international TV. For "true love".
Do I really need to dignify the absurdity of this concept? Practically all of the "winners" (the lovers who find themselves in each other's arms after the show's run) are "broken up" (some even going so far as breaking wedding engagements - the thing that surprised me when I heard of this was the fact that they even considered marriage when they should have treated it as their vehicle for a little more fame, nothing more) so that says it all about the show's "goal". And really, this is how you want "true love" to blossom?
And, it goes without saying, everyone here is above average in the beauty department. Again.
These 5 shows are a sampling of what constitutes "reality TV", and strangely, serve as a commentary of what we now value and consider as "what-to-do". I know some of you will say "the environment is totally artificial!" - true, on the surface. But what about these lessons that we learn?
1. Fame is all-important. Everything you do must be in service of this goal. Good and bad publicity, go for it. Take it.
2. If you act silly, make sure you look cute doing it, and you will get away with it.
3. If you have a nice body, strip as much clothing as you can/dare, and you will also get away with anything.
4. If you have a nice face and a nice body, you won't need anything else to be an "actor", "model", etc.
5. If you can't be the "nice one", then be the "nasty one". People will rally around both, anyway. At least you are assured a fan base. Plus, it's fun to lord it over everyone else.
6. Backstabbing is a part of life, and anyone who doesn't do it is just "weak".
7. Backstabbing saves you from elimination, so it must be a positive thing.
8. Before one gets eliminated, make sure to crap over everyone else. You want to leave your mark, however odious it may manifest itself.
9. You can marry the competition to multiply your fame. (Think Rob and Amber from Survivor where they were competitors, they went on to The Amazing Race as a couple, and eventually had their own reality show where they got married.)
10. If you are too smart, too athletic, etc., you are a threat to everyone else. Think small. Be smaller. Or suffer the elimination.
Do you still believe this is something removed from our actual lives? Think again.