If you watch a sporting event, televised live, is it reality television? If you watch a game show, with results based upon decisions made by the player being shown, are you watching reality television? If you watch police officers chase down a thief, before cameras, however unhappy the result, are you watching reality television. If you watch people singing in a contest hoping to be considered by the judges and audience to be the next superstar, are you watching reality television? If you watch a show with a court judge deciding a case between two people in civil judgment, are you watching reality television? If you are watching two people report about their date together, and how they did various things and was it a “love” connection, was that reality television?
I would argue yes, but, not reality.
What is the factor that joins these as one genre? The lack of a creative voice making the event happen? Chance, and human behavior are captured upon film? The filter is the human invention of television but the aim is to present events and lives that are real. So then, how isn’t that pornography? Clearly there is something visceral and real about two people having sex in front of camera. Whether or not the morality accompanies the event is not the point. We are discussing what it is, not what it should or should not be. But in porn, a real event is captured, all the way to the end, And yet if you were to argue, as I just did, people would scream. But aside from the obvious sexual extremes involved, the act, the event is presented before cameras, reveals intimate details, and shows things that you wouldn’t learn outside of having watched the piece. How is porn not reality television, and, how is reality television not porn? Unearned intimacies are what porn is about. Porn allows a person to see private things without being someone involved in the private event. There are many similar products in culture, for women there are romance novels, for men there are violent action films, professional wrestling and some sports. You feel in love, you’ve been through a sports event. But porn is not reality. Romance novels are not reality, but are fantasy. Sports are not reality either, but we can certainly enjoy them. Even, I say, porn, without feeling a need to call it one thing or another.
So then what is reality television? Frankly few of what are called reality programs have more than a speck of reality within them. They are results of cameras being where no one expects them, and then being framed by presenters as being reality. They are the result of watching a spectacle, a family in disaster, a person being filmed for how different his response will be to something, or a contest. So here is another point forgotten often, reality television is a nature show, or a cooking show. It is a gardening show or a biography of a life well lived. I find the term Reality television ironic, for the creative arts reflect reality far better, clearer, in more detail, through fiction than the supposed truths revealed by Reality TV. The churning tidal pools of life offer far greater opportunities of reflection than anything packaged by television. Go read a book while sitting with a loved one, drinking coffee or other delightful beverage. Go for a walk listening to your iPod. Play with your child... You’ll feel better for it.