I’ve had an odd career. I’m talking about it like it’s over, but who knows what will happen next. Maybe I’ll be Mayor some day. Anyway, I worked on game shows for many years, usually designing interactive online versions of TV classics like Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune, The Price is Right, Family Feud – the list goes on and on. That lead to doing some work with “Reality Shows”.
Many of the most successful Reality Show formats originate from Europe where lots of small countries with small populations had to create shows on tiny budgets. This lead to pretty much a video camera at the car wash solution and developed into what we all know and hate as Reality Shows.
At the time I couldn’t figure out why I disliked them so much. Why did their dishonesty upset me so much more than any other part of creating a TV show, putting on a play or making a movie? My dislike of them was one reason I changed careers after 7 years of being a ‘game show’ person.
It has to do with how they present themselves and the twisting of language.
They are no more ‘Reality’ than BattleStar Galactica but for most people the style was convincing. The cheap production meant authenticity. The ridiculous behavior seemed honest and familiar. The lack of familiar actors implied Truth.
Reality Shows take advantage of style to present themselves as somehow more authentic, even though they are developed, shot, edited, directed and paced just as classic narrative drama and comedy. But by using a seemingly ‘cheap’ style and using modern on-the-go video equipment they make us think they are somehow more truthful, more honest, more grounded in Reality. Style over substance in a BIG way.
Why is this important now? Because I think we have reached a zenith in media where people no longer know what to believe. I am not blaming Reality Shows for the state of the country, perhaps they are a symptom. An excellent example of how easy we can be fooled.
Now I more clearly understand why I found them so off-putting, They are dishonest in a way that a typical sit-com or police procedural will never be. They are dishonest in execution and by design create an illusion of reality that seems convincing enough to garner their name. The word Reality has been dealt a disservice that we may not recover from for many years.