If we wanted reality, we’d turn off the television
“Some day, far into the future, this here machine will become a powerful medium with the potential to unite nations and inspire common folk through high-definition images of overweight D-list celebrities struggling to run and weeping atop rowing machines”.
Do you know to whom this quote - which is believed to have been uttered at the unveiling of the first television set - is most commonly attributed to?
Nobody. Absolutely no one said this.
And if they did, they would have been tarred ‘n’ feathered - because that was the standard method of punishment during the early 1900s for everything from “attempting daring train robberies” to “not wearing a monocle” (and, incidentally, “tarrin ‘n’ featherin’ people”).
Earlier this week, Channel Nine’s Excess Baggage – a show about semi-famous people staring into the hypnotic abyss that is Darryn Lyons and questioning their existence – failed to impress Australian viewers.
Could it be that we are finally moving away from a television format that forces the sad and broken to dance and sweat with the hope of winning some false acceptance?
Is our thirst for intellectual junk food finally disappearing?
I’m surprised it’s taken this long. There is something incredibly unnatural about reality television.
We are the only animal that actively seeks out a zoo – a cage of cameras surrounded by dead-eyed men and women tapping on the glass.
We feed the helpless and fragile to the lions - our own modern colosseum. Publicists and producers blow kisses and smile, before handing out spears and tridents in the green room.
But the mob may soon grow tired of the blood sport.
We justify our rabid viewing by saying it’s about “the journey”, the “transformation”. We watch because we want to see these people succeed. But it’s never been about that. It’s about reducing a person’s worth to a YouTube montage of their strangest moments and deepest fears. More often than not, drama is drawn from tragedy, not triumph.
Reality television places value on those without self-value. They are a commodity – the weirder the better.
Channel Nine’s disappointment with Excess Baggage is perhaps a sign that we’re no longer as enamoured with the human tears trade as we once were.
Sure it was fun for a while to shrug our shoulders and say: “What if we put the Deni Hines in the Jesinta Campbell enclosure?”
But eventually – some might say inevitably – you end up with a pair of twin sisters furiously guzzling donkey semen.
That is what thousands of years of civilisation has led to – the moment that made us the envy of the animal kingdom.
The worst part is, they did it simply because they knew we would watch.
It’s time to be honest.
Nobody watches Celebrity Apprentice because they genuinely hope Warwick Capper gets back with the big boys.
Very few watch The Biggest Loser because they want to be part of a celebration of the human spirit.
We watch these shows because they’re strange enough to be entertaining on some level.
We aren’t watching them because we crave reality.
There is no art to reality. If there were, we wouldn’t be trying to escape it during prime time.
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