Sunday, June 03, 2007

Unreality TV

In today's Sunday Times Bryan Appleyard lays into reality TV in general, and Big Brother in particular - though his real target seems to be the reverse snobbery of a patronising cultural elite.

One aspect of Big Brother* he omits to mention, however, is the absolute moral rigidity of the format. That may sound counterintuitive, but if you think Big Brother is merely symptomatic of a culture where anything goes and appalling anti-social behaviour is rewarded, then you've not understood it at all.

Big Brother is, in essence, an opportunity for the British public to observe the inmates with God-like ominiscience and enforce moral judgements upon them. Every single time, without fail, the villains are evicted at the first opportunity, even though they provide the supposed 'entertainment'. The good guys always win.

The interesting thing is examining exactly what constitutes villainy. It has nothing to do with being foul-mouthed, short-tempered or sexually licentious. No, the biggest BB sin is deviousness. The British public just cannot seem to abide sneakiness, backstabbing and snake-in-the-grassity.

Further evidence of this can be seen in the ill-feeling bubbling away in water-cooler land towards The Apprentice's Katie - a classic two-facer who cuddles up to her fellow contestants, then crucifies them with brilliantly eloquent vitriol in the 'privacy' of the to-camera soliloquy.

Of course, in the real world, we much prefer people to insult and bitch behind our backs than directly to our faces. People who tell you to your face that they don't like you are just rude, friendless boors. Whereas we all gossip to some degree. Perhaps our guilt about this is why backstabbing is the biggest reality TV sin.

*With extraordinary and quite frightening prescience, I recently remarked casually to Mrs B something along the lines of: "Of course, if they really want to stir things up in Big Brother they should have an entire house of women and then stick in a male model."

This is exactly what they've done. Perhaps I should get a job as patronising cultural elitist.


Bryan Appleyard said...

Sound thinking, Brit. It is, indeed, the opportunity for judgment that makes BB so attractive to people - this reinforces my own wonder as to why anybody should take part in such things. In the case of The Apprentice what I found most unpleasant is the model of the business person. In order to succeed, it is assumed, you must be a babbling, vacuous upstart. This is not actually true.

Brit said...

I freely admit to being quite hooked on The Apprentice, but the whole premise is clearly absurd.

The contestants have to go through a series of ridiculous and irrelevant trials, and all for a job that is never defined, but which one suspects involves mostly pen-pushing and database management rather than selling lollipops or flogging stuff on shopping channels.

"Sralan" Sugar plays a caricature, but he's actually surprisingly insightful and accurate in his appraisals.

Note that there is no ability for the audience to evict, so they had to invent the spin-off "You're Fired" thing on BBC 2 to allow the studio audience to pass judgement on Sralan's judgment.

Ali said...

I've watched it a couple of times but the trials are so unconnected with actual day-to-day business life it's impossible to take seriously.

Also whenever Sugar's criticising someone, I get tempted to shout "Emailer!" at the telly.

Anonymous said...

Good insight, Brit. She Who Is Perfect is mildly addicted to magazines like People, Us, etc. I used to worry that it was a sign she found our home and all who dwelled in it a tad soporific, but I eventually came to realize she just needs her weekly fix of scorn.

It works inoffensively enough with the feckless rich and famous, but Bryan is right that it is deeply exploitative when it showcases society's lost losers. Surely this is the modern version of the old carnival freak shows.

Duck said...

I agree with Bryan. It sounds like appalling anti-social behavior is rewarded, as long as it is done "honestly". As Brit puts it:

"The interesting thing is examining exactly what constitutes villainy. It has nothing to do with being foul-mouthed, short-tempered or sexually licentious. No, the biggest BB sin is deviousness."

So as long as you show the same behavior in front of people as you do behind them, you're an alright bloke. But civilization depends on the white lie. The white lie allows us to be civil with one another without having to like each other. When it is more acceptable to be a nasty, ill-tempered brute than it is to be a civil hypocrite, then we indeed have reached the anything goes society.

Hey Skipper said...

I have never seen even one episode of a reality TV program, ever.

I am not sure if this is something I should be proud of, however.

One thing is for certain, though. I can't hang around the watercooler, because I have no earthly idea what anyone is talking about.

Mike Beversluis said...

Don't worry. With the proliferation of public cameras, google map street views, and - oh, yeah - blogs, we are all making our own reality shows all the time.