Techniques used in Reality TV in Australia

Techniques used in Reality TV in Australia
(Credit: All Free Essays)

Untasteful, feral, depraved viewing; Euphemism for palpable voyeurism; Is spelling the end of decent, moral society - Slagging out reality TV from a high culture standpoint is as easy as taking candy from a blind, paralysed, limbless baby. Reality TV is a significant part of popular culture in the current settings of mainstream Australian society. Counting the number of reality television shows on two hands is now a physical impossibility. But what impact is this concept having on society now and into the future?

The first wave of reality TV shows (such as Survivor, The Weakest Link and Dog Eat Dog) played on people's collective anxieties about the new workplace culture whereby nothing is secure. The threat of expulsion and humiliation is what draws people to this style of programming. This was followed by the lifestyle programs, which were the once removed cousins of Reality TV. Naturally no one is entirely satisfied with the way they live so these programs played on people's desires to improve their lifestyle and living conditions. The third wave of Reality shows (such as Joe Millionaire, The Bachelor and For Love or Money) plays with people's fears of falsified relationships; are there ulterior reasons behind a `supposed' loving relationship (such as money)? The main appeal of Reality television is that the viewer experiences raw human emotions like humiliation, deceit and rejection from a removed perspective. The ability to inspect and analyse the happenings of others without being seen takes on a god-like perspective. It invokes the fantasy of having access to all that is hidden.

Do the treacherous, backstabbing ideals of reality TV shows such as Survivor, Dog Eat Dog and Big Brother actually promote and legitimise their anti-social behaviour and ideals in society, or is it merely a frivolous form of entertainment, providing an emotional outlet for the typical, stressed individual? You could argue either way.

Aristotle noted the paradox that people could be entertained by the sufferings and humiliations of others in art form, and named it catharsis. He described it as a purifying and cleansing of the emotions, and the concept is still applied in psychology today to bring repressed feelings and fears to the conscious mind. So could reality TV actually be a vent for people's entrenched emotions? Some would argue that reality TV is an ideal provider of raw human emotion in a realistic form (that is, the emotional relief coupled with the self-assurance of being safely separated from the trials and tribulations).

On the other hand, we know that people are influenced and often imitate the behaviour they see on TV. Why else would cigarette advertisements be banned in almost all forms of media? In fact, the whole advertising industry relies on the fact that people are influenced by what they hear and see. So it seems logical that programs that portray manipulative and dishonest behaviour by "average" people (non-actors) would be in some sense duplicated into the viewer's own interpersonal interactions.

And others ask how far will it go? Should we be bracing ourselves for `live births' Reality TV or `marriage counselling' Reality TV. Some believe network executives will `dip their toes into hell' before they relinquish the quest to procure new and original concepts.

So how long will the "fad" of reality TV last in mainstream popular culture. The simple answer - as long as the shows are commercially viable. Reality TV shows are the `bargain basement' of television production. Why pay Ray Romano million per episode for Everybody Loves Raymond or Kelsey Grammar .8 million per episode for Frasier, when you can pay "Joe Nobody" diddly-squat for a whole series, and still achieve the same, or even superior ratings. Even a grand prize of million in a Reality TV show such as Survivor is recouped in about 1 minute of commercial advertisements. As long as consumers `tune in', networks will `put out'.

One of the main obstacles that Reality TV shows have in retaining loyal audiences into the future is that it is difficult to establish a bond between audience and show when there are contestants coming and going from every direction. Just as quickly as you've established a reciprocity or emotional identification with a contestant than he or she is "voted off the island" or "sent on the walk of shame". And will audiences eventually become tired of the nastiness and double-dealing that are such strong features of reality TV? Perhaps, but then again how can any show be entertaining with continual politeness and nauseating niceness, and not some form of conflict? As long as writers and producers are able to come up with original television ideas, there will be other writers and producers who will be able to put a realistic spin on the concept so as to involve the audience. People are constantly striving to be admired by others and as long as reality TV exists, people are able to, in some ways, fulfil this desire through Reality TV participants. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink it; obviously reality TV fanatics will `slurp the concept dry'.

So how real is Reality TV? In an episode of Survivor from the second season, one of the so called "reward challenges" involved a canoe race down a river. After shooting the footage, the executive producer, Mark Burnett, realised that the ground television cameras and crew could clearly be seen in the overhead (helicopter) footage of the race. So what did he do? He had the contestants rerun the race with the camera crew concealed and the winner of the race already decided. The contestants were re-enacting the race they had already completed the day before. Enhancing or editing the visual and aural footage is a technique used extensively in Reality TV using the actual audio and visual images of television as its media. Here's another, more local example. In a recent `bloopers' episode of The Block, the show displayed footage of contestant `Wazza' mispronouncing a prearranged line. Why would a contestant have a formulated `line' in a reality TV you ask? An underlining feature of pop culture is that it is commercially viable. TV executives want a certain amount of control over the narrative shaping of the show so as to keep it in-line with what the audience expects and desires. The truth of the matter is that `real' Reality TV is boring. Who wants to watch a mother hang out clothes on the line or do a crossword puzzle on a cold night. Even the most realistic of reality TV shows, Big Brother, is usually broadcast in daily highlights and if there isn't enough action occurring in the household during a live broadcast - alcohol is introduced into the compound; sure to induce lewd behaviour and sexual innuendo. Reality TV is manipulated to make it more appealing to the target audience. The grand appeal of Survivor is the isolation and destitution away from the western world. Audiences do not seem to mind that reality shows do not portray genuine reality, so long as it is entertaining. Insiders of the genre prefer to call the enhancing technique "assisted reality".

Audience interaction is the newest technique used by network executives to "hook in" viewers in an increasingly competitive television market for ratings supremacy. Audience interaction allows the audience to decide the future direction of a show. In particular, the use of SMS messaging using mobile phones provides the participant with a belief that they are in some way having an impact on the outcome of the show. Reality TV viewers are usually hip, dynamic individuals. The key demographic for most reality programs is 18-34 year olds with disposable income. They are willing to `hop on the bandwagon' when it comes to the latest popular culture fad. Thus, it can be reasonable to say that the ownership of mobile phones for recreational purposes may run parallel to the viewing of Reality TV. Producers use text messaging on mobile phones to receive and convey electronic mass media. In the recent series of Big Brother, mobile phone users received `inside information' on the show and the contestants when they "SMS'd" a password to a particular number (presumably at a greater cost than standard messages). If a viewer is not yet emotionally involved in the show, they become "gizmonically" involved after they've messaged their vote or opinion.

While the positives and negatives of Reality TV will be continuously debated as long as the concept is around, it can be undisputed that Reality TV is a very real part of contemporary, global popular culture. Perhaps Reality TV is related to the inexorable process of globalisation. Those that take the risk may fail miserably and be mortified in the process, while others wreak the rewards and succeed in a shower of riches and rewards. Audiences are happy to sit on the fence.

Composed by J. Mckellar (2003)

by Anonymous Student


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