Wednesday, 5 February 2014

American Reality TV Is The Best Reality TV Because It Isn't Set In Reality

So as the title says, American reality TV being really great is what I'm going to talk for the next few thousand words. Reality TV exists in basically every country now and there must be a version of Big Brother for every nation on Earth at this point. I can't stand to watch a lot of reality television shows because for the most part, every day reality and all the people involved in it really isn't that interesting. Here in England, where the Big Brother experiment began, and then died before being resurrected by method of cattle prod to dance in its shameful death throes every night on Channel 5; reality TV is actually quite boring for the most part. I know a lot of others find it fascinating and can get into the stories of the idiots that have signed themselves up to make a quick buck off the modern day freak show, but it's just such a massive investment of time that I can't see the point in even getting started. 

As with any show, it constantly has to push boundaries and every British reality show, whether it involves desperate regular folks trapped in a house together or even more desperate celebrities trapped in a house together, has continued to vamp up the formula by getting increasingly wacky individuals with an increasingly uncertain grip of their mental stability, to argue and fight and sing loudly in the vain hope that they might get picked up for a record deal; for our amusement. Everyone who is doing these shows now cannot in their right mind belief that this is a glamorous and beneficial experience to have. 

Everyone that now signs up for these shows is for the most part a desperate arsehole, and it's only through watching it for a prolonged period that the reality TV connoisseur is able to sample and enjoy the varied forms of desperate arsehole along the spectrum of desperate arseholeness from the selection of desperate arseholes. It takes investment. The editing isn't flashy, it isn't boiled down and most of the time you find yourself watching reality TV with the annoying reality aspect getting in the way at all times. Reality is slow, takes a while to develop and most of the time turns out disappointing.

So what makes American reality TV stand out then? Because when it comes to American reality TV, all of my earlier criticisms about the shows being held back by lack of editing, drawn out sequences and the dull nature of reality are all removed. Unlike most dramatised shows, whenever you see anything extreme happen, it's effect is lessened because of the accepted premise that the show is fictionalised. But in American reality TV, all of it is still fictionalised, but because there is an underlying illusion of it all being set in reality, then the show becomes all the more mind-blowing. American reality TV doesn't just set out to show you reality, it sets out to remake it and mutate reality into something genuinely stranger than fiction, whilst being fiction the whole time.

Reality TV is a big lie, and what makes lies so effective is that they change the way you view the world. It's a shameful and poisonous tactic which is what makes these shows so much better than any others across the globe. And what makes reality TV in America so fascinating and constantly rewarding is that unlike everywhere else, there are so many different situations where this false reality can take place that there's a flavour to suit every taste.

In England, most reality TV is either set in a house where twats are locked up, or in a jungle where celebrity twats are also locked up, all the while left to argue and do degrading challenges for our enjoyment. But the problem is that the twats can only ever get so twattish in each subsequent season and the challenges can only get so degrading before they cross the line of legality. But in America there are so many shows, and even channels dedicated to showing every single facet of life, that there's always some weird untapped subject to draw you back in and satisfy the sick bastard part of your brain.

TLC, also known ironically as The Learning Channel, has gone the History Channel and MTV route of programming, in that it basically dropped the original premise that it was named for in order to make more money. The Learning Channel used to be mostly comprised of documentaries which were educational and most importantly true. Now it's filled with back to back reality shows that pose as documentaries that constantly bombard you with weird people and their weird situations and it's unfortunately a lot more interesting.

Also notice the subtle removal of the subtitle 'The Learning Channel' on the latest iterations of their logo. They seem to be taking the route of transforming TLC from being an acronym, to simply being letters that have meaning in and of themselves.

Take a show like My Strange Addiction, where each week we are allowed to follow someone with a life debilitating addiction to something that isn't drugs. It's probably just as likely to kill them and ruin their life, but because it isn't drugs that means that it can be done in an entertaining way. The closest the show comes to drugs is looking at solvent abusers and even then it barely spends any time exploring their destroyed livelihoods and instead spends most of the time with the lens pointed on the addict taking their drugs and then saying all the wacky things that someone off their tits on solvents would probably say. We only ever hear how they're feeling from their perspective, which because they're high as hell, is always feeling pretty good and unaware of the damage they're causing, so we can watch the show feeling mostly at ease whilst all the negative stuff is edited out to not scare us away.

The obsessive and repetitive shots as the person continues to indulge in their addiction is something that is dwelled upon throughout the short running time. And the weirder the addiction, the funnier it is to watch for us. Take cat licking or sniffing a baby doll's head as an addiction and you'll be able to better imagine just how odd that is to watch someone do. The show then boils the addiction down into a simple fact like “Teresa sniffs her doll's head 9 times a day” before dialling it up to a larger period of time to show us a bigger number version of that initial stat. So if Teresa sniffs her doll's head 9 times a day then that's over 3240 times a year. Wow that's a bigger number, look how much I'm learning. You can do that with anything of course. I piss once a day, and if we dial it up then that's almost 3600000 pisses every ten millenniums. Whoa. That's a lot of pisses right there. Bigger number equals more interesting fact.

But aside from making their reality shows a lot more extreme and dialling everything up, the producers of the show will also construct events to make it all ever the more ludicrous. One guy named Cameron was on the show for being in love with his car. It was affecting his personal life and so the producers felt that the best way for him to handle this was to tell his dad that he was sexually attracted to his car, whilst washing it down. This is basically the equivalent of asking someone to break to their parents that they're gay whilst lubing up the anus of a man bent over submissively before them. On another episode, a woman addicted to butt injections to increase the size of her ass, has a meeting arranged for her by the producers to discuss her problem from someone who has had a hell of a lot more butt injections. So they sit the butt injection addict down with an ex butt injection addict who has the biggest swollen ass that has ever been conceived by mankind and take slowed down profile shots of her ass before sitting them in a cafe to talk about their swollen asses.

My point is that none of these scenarios would have happened organically had the crew not gotten involved. But at the same time the people who make these shows are absolute geniuses. They're clearly very funny and cynical people who construct these hilarious situations to increase the absurdity of the scenario and make it awkward to breaking point. The worst thing is that I can't stop watching them because they are hilarious, regardless of how emotional and human interest they smother the motive of producing the show under. In one episode a guy who is in love with an inflatable dinosaur called Daisy tells his best friend how much in love they are and gives it pecks on the cheek, all the while with the camera focusing on the inflatable dinosaur's smiling static face. I barely believe that this is even a real addiction as I can barely understand why someone would come on the show and release this personal information to the public, and then the producers go and construct this awkward meet up in order to further pile on the fascination.

There are several shows that focus greatly on the daily lives of pawn shop owners. My favourite of these is Hardcore Pawn, which details the working lives of two children and their sleazy father Les Gold, who manage a pawn shop along the 8 mile in Detroit. Every episode, without fail, the family argues several times, has a series of increasingly ridiculous and angry people storm into the shop and start arguments for literally no reason, before ending with a cliffhanger that will usually involve a dodgy sale or a theft that will be tied up in next week's episode. Now my question whilst watching this is, how often does stuff like this really happen? There are over 30 episodes of this show a year and each one has several ridiculous things happen in it. I just can't believe that one shop could go through so many insane customers and be wrapped up in so many interesting and winding narratives. And yet this show has tens of hours of stories to show without fail.

Most of the time you can tell it's set up just because of the camera placement. The camera is never hiding outside the door and catching an argument in the latter half. The camera, sometimes several cameras is always set up at the start of the fight or argument and captures every second of it, all perfectly framed and shot. The cameras in this show never miss a beat of these people's lives. People in the store also strangely never ask why there are cameras inside the store, even going to the point of being so oblivious
to their presence that they will shop lift or vandalise the shop in full view of the camera and then argue that they didn't do anything wrong.

Perfectly framed reality

Most people who watch these will be able to switch off and forget that the camera is a physical thing, but instead belief that they are just viewing these real life moments through some ethereal inter dimensional glass window that sits in the middle of their television capturing all of life's wonders in its mysterious omnipresence. But anyone who thinks about it for a second will immediately see the guiding hand behind it all. The construed events, the forced reactions, the set ups, the egging on of people to make a scene in front of an audience for a short moment in the spotlight. It's all so obviously fabricated.

And yet, it isn't. Because it's reality TV. It's true, it's visceral and most importantly it's real. Why wouldn't it be? Why would they lie to you? They have no reason to. And that's what sucks you in about American reality TV. It hides behind the premise of reality and in doing so reshapes reality for the viewer. It doesn't make you watch boring idiots argue from a fly in the wall perspective, but gives you close up shots of fighting and screaming from a circling vulture perspective. Reality TV in American rebuilds reality to the point where you can't tell that it was any different and in doing so, that becomes your reality and an accurate representation of the world you live in.

And that's why I think American reality TV is the best.


  1. I once saw an episode of Big Brother where everyone was just asleep. TV at its laziest.

    Another romp through the ridiculous, H. 4 stars.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it.

      Yeah I went through a phase of watching big brother live on E4 at night. It was strangely relaxing. Think it was around the time that my first ps2 broke, which would explain it.

  2. That inflatable dinosaur is a real cutie. Has she got a friend?

  3. I like the speedy response here. I request and it is done.

    Now can you put £10,000 in my bank account? Details to follow.

    Good article, sir.

    1. I told you it has to correlate. This time, not so much.

  4. When a shy retiring football phobic bride to be is happy to get married on a football pitch at half time in an FA cup match the suspicion that she was a spurs supporter all along has to grow. Back stoyr: the whole thing is paid for as long as I look aghast.

    Well put, Billy B.

    1. I could write an entirely separate thing on wedding day reality shows. Some people will squander absolutely anything for free shit and publicity.

  5. Liking your new schedule, guys.

    Harvey on top form again.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. I too like the new schedule. Just hoping that my handful of random subjects that I think of during the week dont dry out too quickly.

  6. I hope Judge Judy isn't staged. Her biting assessments are so amusing to watch.
    A bit like here really.

    1. lol as much as I like to think it's not, Judy goes down such personal roads of insult that I can't believe for a second that it is a valid court of law.