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Saturday, October 08, 2005

The reality show – a perverse marriage of voyeur/exhibitionist

When The American Family debuted in 1973, America got its first taste of reality television, stepping away from the concocted primetime fare of happy, worry-free families ala The Brady Bunch and The Nelsons. The PBS show presented a behind-closed-doors look at an all-American family named Loud, headed by Bill and Pat, and their children Lance, Kevin, Grant, Delilah and Michelle. Produced by Craig Gilbert, with over 300 hours of footage shot over a seven-month period (only twelve hours actually aired), the show would prove the undoing of the family as Bill and Pat eventually announced their divorce. The show was a particularly devastating experience for their son, Lance, who, for whatever reason, chose an on-camera moment to admit he was gay. To this day, the family complains that their lives were misrepresented through creative editing.

After that failure, the networks basically kept their distance from reality television until 1991, when MTV premiered a new show called The Real World, bringing together seven young strangers from various walks of life and housing them for several weeks in a controlled environment of cameras, mikes and confession booths. The first season was so popular, that years later, the show is still going strong with a succession of new roommates. However, like the Louds, many of the former Real Worlders complain that the MTV producers edited the film footage to present them in the most unflattering light.

In the succeeding years, the number of reality shows has proliferated, with every network presenting its own version of a “real world.” Ironically, the shows come off more as scripted than real, where bodies are perfect, women are blonde and pouty, men are buffed and tall and there is always drama going on. Any imperfection is used as a lambast against the poor schmoe, joe or jane. (Not to worry – that’s what makeover shows are for).

How “real” is reality television? As funny as the Osbornes were with their offbeat antics, I suspect many of their droll moments were just a play for the camera (or maybe chemically induced?). One has to ask is the audience actually peeking in on an argument between Jessica and Nick, Bobby and Whitney, or have the producers prodded the couples to get the hoped-for drama?

The newest addition to the reality show lineup comes via the no holds barred Breaking Bonaduce, presenting the troubled and dysfunctional Danny Bonaduce, his wife, Gretchen, and their kids. Where other shows present themselves as light-hearted and superficial, Breaking Bonaduce delves into the demons that drive the former Danny Partridge to self-destruction and the unraveling of his marriage. The camera follows Danny to his sessions with his psychiatrist (isn’t this an ethical violation?), where he reveals his self-loathing, and then later shoots up close as Danny succumbs to a fit of jealousy over one of his wife’s bandmates. But the nadir of these perversely voyeuristic moments occurs when Danny takes his wife’s Bic razor to his vein after she threatens him with divorce. Luckily for the audience, the actual cutting isn’t shown, but the implication is sickening enough.

If the cameras continually presents these characters, who are more like caricatures, in a poor light, they also capture the viewing audience in an equally unflattering angle. The exhibitionist is nothing without the voyeur ready to cater to the ratings. And there seems to be enough voyeurs to keep this reality show trend going for decades to come.

As for me, I can live without knowing just how creepy people are behind closed doors. So, the only reality show I’m watching is Amazing Race, and hey, that’s just good ole friendly competition. No divorces there…yet.

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 10/08/2005 12:50:00 PM Permanent Link     | | Home


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