“Reality” Television

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Reality TV is a term used for any television show that contains “real people”, as opposed to actors. Generally, reality TV is unscripted, although more and more scripted reality shows are coming into fashion, such as The Only Way is Essex.


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Something that really interests me is the concept of hyper-reality; when a media text represents a reality different (sometimes only slightly) to the reality we know and experience. David Buckingham once said, “The media do not just offer us a transparent ‘window on the world’ but a mediated version of it. They don’t just present reality, they re-present it”.

When a producer places a camera, whether it’s hidden or on a set, they are mediating the text. They are able to take footage and edit it, and can take an angle with the footage they have to present a situation in a certain way. The representation of a situation that we watch on shows like Big Brother is sure to come across differently to the audience than it does to someone inside the house.

The reason I’m writing this now is because I noticed something on Come Dine with Me the other day that got me thinking about reality TV, and how “real” it actually is.

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Like any reality TV show, Come Dine with Me takes an angle, and the footage is then edited to the best effect. For example if there’s a contestant that’s slightly unusual, during editing the producer will deliberately highlight these oddities by being selective about what footage they use and how. Therefore, the audience is seeing a mediated representation of the person, deliberately created for entertainment purposes. Why would we watch it if the contestants were all boring?

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What got me thinking was an episode in which the producer drew upon one contestant’s bitchiness, obviously exaggerating these traits for entertainment. When desert was served they cut to a clip of said bitchy contestant in the taxi, saying she hadn’t stuck around for desert. She then comments on how she didn’t want to stay in their company any longer. When we go back to the table, the cameraman cleverly angles the camera so we never see her “empty” seat; someone is always in the way, and the camera cuts off that corner of the table. Suspicious much? This would’ve been acceptable, and probably would’ve gone unnoticed if when the four remaining contestants went in for a “cheers”, a fifth hand hadn’t appeared!

It got me thinking about how much reality TV really does brainwash us and mediate our perceptions of a situation. The Come Dine with Me example was done as a way of creating a bit of drama because that’s what makes these shows interesting, but its actually quite scary to think that the producer could invent this dramatic situation just by using camera trickery and clever editing. Its all well and good us media students picking up on it; “they can’t fool us!” but there are tens of thousands of audience members who don’t have such an in depth knowledge of the media, who are easily fooled. Think about all these impressionable young girls who think its cool to sleep around and slap people because that’s what the girls in TOWIE do.

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Anyway, I digress. The point I am trying to make is that reality TV is becoming more and more unreal. With scripted reality TV (what a joke!) becoming more and more in demand what hope is there! We’re slowly beginning to live in these hyper-real worlds where we believe everything we see in Big Brother because we’re told its “reality”; its almost like we’re going back to the times when the hypodermic needle theory was applicable, and audiences would blindly accept everything the media told them without question.

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