Such an exercise may seem remarkably pointless at the outset. Why should anyone bother to read a review about television shows that even the reviewer cannot be bothered to watch? How can anyone get that incensed over a subject on which they are so blatantly ignorant?*
Now is a time when the world seems to be facing an appalling number of crises. On the global front, the constant barrage of troubling news about the environment, the economy, poverty, diseases and international conflicts mean that your daily intake of current events is about as cheerful as your average Dostoyevsky novel.
On a national level, things aren’t any better. The government seems to have taken to introducing nasty-minded policies with all the moustache-twirling glee of a dastardly villain in a Victorian melodrama, hastily tying national parks and beneficiaries to the train tracks and then gloating at us all with maniacal laughter.
In times like these, our days are incredibly stressful. Worrying about the ever-increasing tower of problems and injustice, writing strongly-worded emails to MPs and joining all the Facebook protest groups is exhausting. At the end of our days, kiwis should be able to switch on the TV and find some relaxing escapism from the terrifying levels of impending doom and destruction. Television may not be much more than valium for the masses, but if there has ever been a time when everyone deserves a pleasant hour or two of self-medicated numbness from the misery of real life, it’s now.
That’s why I find I am compelled to wail and moan about that most despised of television: Reality TV.
I know, I know. Surely, everyone on the internet has already mocked and criticised Reality TV. It seems like a lazy target, like I’m kicking the wheezy, unpopular kid at school when they’re curled up on the ground having already been beaten up by bigger, tougher bullies. I don’t want to be the inept wannabe thug who gets a kick in only after everyone has had a good go, but I fear that on this occasion, I might have to be. Reality TV has really annoyed me. It’s broken my pencils and stuck chewing gum in my hair one too many times. I can’t resist the urge to give it a kick in the shins now, even though it’s a hardly a fair fight.
I should mention that I’m not opposed to the idea of Reality TV in itself. In fact, I think the first series of the first show of any particular concept** is probably interesting enough to watch. After all, there’s heightened human conflict and drama between the contestants, the additional element of competition and suspense, and often a pretence that they’re giving us insight into the ‘reality’ of surviving on an island, running a restaurant, becoming a famous singer/model/designer/performer or successful business person. Of course, it’s all so artificial and staged that we’re all abundantly aware that the ‘reality’ show is no more of an accurate representation of the actual reality than the experience of watching an episode of ‘Wheel of Fortune’ is like using a dictionary.
My biggest gripe with Reality TV is the sheer amount of repetition there is. I fear this is a common enough complaint, but surely we New Zealanders are afflicted with a far worse time of it than other countries. What seems unaccountably cruel is the obsession TVNZ broadcasters have with screening countless series of international versions of a show for a year or two before forking out cash to buy the format and then making a NZ series of the idea as well.
This is a particularly vicious form of evil. We’re expected to endure the American, then the British, then the Australian versions of the same show, each with diminishing budgets and production values, and then, to add insult to grievous injury, they make the NZ one, which is unfailingly the cheapest and blandest of the lot. Shows like ‘The Apprentice’, ‘
Of course, I may well be missing the point. The purpose of the show is perhaps to cast a spotlight on those overlooked talented people, the aspiring and amateur performers. This is not a bad idea in itself. Maybe people have forgotten about the joys of community theatre and so forth. Perhaps we have forgotten that people who aren’t paid large sums of money can be talented too. Are we as a society too inclined to acclaim only the highly successful and ludicrously famous? Have we been neglecting to praise the talents of the amateur artists in our clamour for the works of celebrities?
If this was the original ideal of the show, I would not object. It seems a nice idea to showcase the talents of so-called ‘ordinary’ people. Give some people a chance to get to be on TV and maybe even win a prize. Sort of like a larger scale version of a school talent show. Loads of kids get to perform on stage and then receive an appreciative round of applause from the favourably-disposed audience of parents and grandparents. Mum and Dad can film their child’s performance and feel in the heady glow of parental pride that the money they’ve been shelling out for ballet or oboe lessons has not been wasted.
However, I fear that this nobler idea has been perverted into yet another means of manufacturing celebrities. The Susan Boyle phenomenon for example. The hype around the fact that a lady who didn’t fit the usual requirements for a glamorous singer could actually sing was artificially made to seem like a shocking revelation. It isn’t. None of us should be astounded by the fact that someone who looks like Susan Boyle can sing any more than we find it incredible that someone who looks like Beyonce can.
Are we meant to be shaking our collective heads in bewilderment, remarking that ‘it’s almost like what you look like doesn’t have any bearing at all on your ability to sing’? We all knew that already. We didn’t think that external attractiveness was an accurate indication of musical talent or any other skill or ability for that matter, did we? I don’t assume that someone with poor dress sense would be incapable of filling out their own tax return or that a person with an unflattering hairdo wouldn’t be able to parallel park. Why then should I be expected to be amazed that a slightly frumpy middle-aged lady can sing? Are the likes of Simon Cowell so out of touch with reality that they didn’t think any woman existed who wasn’t gorgeous, skinny and under forty? Had they imagined that any female deemed by society to not be attractive or fashionable enough must be so lacking in other skills as to be worthless, and should be driven out with pitch-forks to live under a bridge and jump out to scare children?
Whatever the reasoning for these ‘some country or other has got talent’ shows, surely they are best enjoyed only within the confines of their own country. Watching another country’s talented amateur performers who are possibly doomed to become the latest reality TV celebrity is rather like sneaking in to watch a talent show at a school that your child doesn’t go to. There can’t be a good reason to do it. If the performances are universally impressive then you’d feel concerned that your own child’s school wouldn’t measure up, and if the performances are bad, then you’re just sneering and judging someone else’s kids in a mean-spirited way, and enduring a painfully tuneless rendition of Greensleeves on shrill recorders as well. It’s a lose-lose situation.
It’s particularly bad for New Zealanders. We’re the smallest school in town and we’ve only a pathetically meagre budget when it comes to the Arts. We shouldn’t be forced to watch other countries’ talent shows and reality series before our own. It’s just going to make us feel worse about ourselves and we already suffer from an inferiority complex and self-hating cultural cringe. Any more of these low-budget versions of international reality shows and none of us are going to be able to look each other in the eye. We’ll be forced to invent more thinly-veiled suicide attempts to market as ‘extreme sports’ to the tourists. I can’t take the risk of the remorseless despair that might be induced if I risk watching NZ Masterchef. What if they’re only attempting to make sausage rolls or reheat a potato-topped pie? What if they don’t even manage to do it without burning the pastry whilst somehow still failing to adequately cook the meat filling? It could drive me over the edge.
I better join Facebook and start a ‘New Zealander’s against remaking local version of reality shows’ group.
* A question I have indeed found myself asking on numerous occasions when I have read the ‘letters to the editor’ section of the local newspapers.
** There are some concepts that never should have been made. The show about finding the next Pussycat Doll for example***.
*** Possibly I would hate the existence of this show less if they hadn’t replaced Veronica Mars with it.
**** As I have steadfastly refused to watch or discuss the show I have no idea, nor any desire to learn, where it was filmed. That doesn’t mean I can’t belittle their set design.