Fake Reality   10 comments

This week, the authors of the Open Book Blog Hop are discussing “reality” television. How do I “really” feel about it and why?

First, check out what my fellow authors have to say on the subject.

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I have a love-hate relationship with reality television. There’s a perverse enjoyment in peeking into the lives of other people. I felt it for the first time back in 1973 when our local PBS station broadcast An American Family – a fly-on-the-wall documentary of what purported to be a typical American family. It even documented the break-up and subsequent divorce of Bill and Pat Loud, the subject couple, and their son’s coming out as gay. This is the first reality television series, followed shortly by a BBC series along the same lines. As an adolescent forbidden by my parents to peek through the neighbors’ curtains, there was something very peeping-Tom chic about the whole experience.

As a journalism major in the early 1980s, my media ethics class revisited the series when we studied media manipulation. The Louds claimed the material had been edited to emphasize the negative, which called attention to how nonfiction narratives are fashioned by media manipulation. Did the camera’s presence encourage the subjects to perform? Do we perhaps perform at all stages of our lives? Was the camera acting neutral observer or manipulative catalyst? Did the editors essentially create a fake story drawn from real elements?

And was any of that ethical? For the record, I had become peeping-Tom adverse by this time. As a journalist, I was all about reporting on what people did in their public lives, but I thought we ought to leave people’s private lives private.

This was all before the days  of the highly staged reality television that we know today. Jersey Shore doesn’t concern itself with whether or not the presence of the camera manipulates reality. It just out and out manipulates it. My husband and I interviewed for a reality television program on remote cabin staking in Alaska. (It was mostly his idea because the production company would pay for the cabin materials). They wanted to film us building a cabin by hand in September while also hunting for moose and fishing (out of season) and could we also raise animals? Oh, and by the way, could we suck our family and friends into this deal and get them to fight among themselves?

Huh?

Although Brad is a great amateur actor, I think we all agreed that this would be torture on a stick. Our daughter disappeared to the bluegrass gypsy circuit, our teenage son announced that he did not want to appear on camera, I knew I couldn’t get two months off work, and Brad bow hunts, which is entirely boring when done right. Our land has no cliffs to fall off of and none of us were volunteering to fall into the semi-frozen creek accidentally on purpose. We also weren’t going to lose our hunting and fishing rights by appearing to violate State hunting and fishing laws on camera. While we were pretty sure we could talk friends into helping us build a cabin, we were equally certain we couldn’t get them to fight or have affairs on camera. When they found out that our remote cabin site is actually within hiking distance of a road, the production company found others to be in their “reality” show. I believe it’s called “Land Rush”. Which, by the way, we know one of those people and he says it is an entirely artificial experience. The trials and travails of getting his materials didn’t happen. They were actually delivered by helicopter from Lowes and then they set up the difficulties. We don’t know the Kilchers and don’t care. They do show some Alaskan experiences, hyped up to make things more entertaining. They seem like a nice family, but they might want to go back to being anonymous and that’s hard to do, especially when your sister and daughter is Jewel.

We are SO glad we weren’t selected! It will take us a little longer to build our cabin, but it won’t be on the tourism circuit. Whew! Notoriety bullet dodged! Good for us!

Sometimes we watch reality television, but the fact is that the only ones I can stand are the ones that are entirely fake. There was one called The Colony that actually gave me a few ideas for Transportation Project. I like the ones where modern people try out a historical era. But I never really forget that the producers wanted us to fake some aspects of “reality” and so I watch them strictly for entertainment purposes … and not very often. We’ve never watched Jersey Shore or Big Brother or …. Yeah, we just don’t want them that much. It comes down to this. We love good acting and most reality television stars couldn’t act their way out of a wet rice-paper bag. So, I have to say, I am very much looking forward to The Colony starring Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies, because I think the version with the Hollywood actors might “read” more real than the “reality television” series.

Tamsen Schultz was born and raised in Northern California in a family of readers. She is a three-time finalist in the PNWA contest, a published author with her first short story included in Line Zero magazine in 2011 and a debut novel released in 2012. She live in the Seattle area in a house full of males including her husband, two (loud) sons, a cat and dog and a gender neutral, but well stocked, wine rack. She loves horses and rides any and every chance she gets in hopes of becoming a dressage queen. Amazon Author Page

10 responses to “Fake Reality

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  1. What a good topic! When they first started showing the “reality” shows, I was curious and watched a few, but I don’t even want to know people who behave like that, much less watch them on television. The only ones I watch are Gold Rush and The Kilchers and that is only because I don’t control the remote on those days!
    They all make us look bad as human beings and personally I wish they would get the heck out of Georgia!!

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    • Yeah, most Alaskans feel the same. Some of the early Alaskan-based ones weren’t really bad. Dropping a bunch of cheechakos in the Alaskan wilderness and telling them to hike out or build a cabin and survive three months … that was sort of entertaining because as an Alaskan I know how hard that can be. The cheechako pitted against the Alaskan wilderness theme wasn’t objectionable. But then the shows got more and more outlandish. We watched the first season of the Kilchers and it was okay, mostly believable, until they tried to get a huge barge up and down some river and we were like … yeah, time to go fold laundry now. It was decidedly staged and we’d rather watch real actors pretending to be in danger than reality stars doing it. They’re more believable.

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  2. I wonder how much longer reality TV will create profits for the networks. Seems like at some point-hopefully in the near future!—the entiore genre will have run its course and networks will actually produce decent shows again.

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    • Well, this is Idol’s last year, so I think the advertisers there are not seeing a return on their dollar. So, there’s hope … a light at the end of the tunnel … or maybe it’s a train. Never underestimate the power of the television networks to come up with something worse to replace reality television.

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  3. That net worth thing may be a little misleading. The Kilchers have a lot of land, so that accounts for about half of the net worth. Alaskan land is expensive because while we are the largest state in the union, so little of our land is in private hands that it is pricey to buy any. The Kilchers homesteaded the land in the last generation, so they didn’t buy it, but that land is probably worth a couple of million on today’s market. Then there is three generations of collected equipment, the buildings that have been built, the cattle, etc.

    It’s easy here to be worth a lot on paper and not have any cash to spend, especially if you’re trying to live a homestead life. Jewell has said that she started singing professionally in the bars of Kenai with her dad (Atz) because they needed the money.

    So I can see where reality television would be tempting. I’m sure they get paid well for acting like their lives are exciting. That cash income might provide a nice retirement for Atz and give the two sons some scratch for whatever plans they have for the future.

    We certainly considered it as a way to build our cabin, though ultimately we were glad we didn’t do it and we’re glad we didn’t. We value our privacy too much and would have regretted giving it away.

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  4. How interesting! You’re an almost Reality TV star. Your post provides some good insight to the process for selection and development of reality TV show. Some people really enjoy them…as you wrote, they provide an inside look at the lives of others, including the rich and famous…whether real, fantasy or manipulated scenarios. I don’t see these kinds of shows disappearing anytime soon though. There is a lot to be said about the satisfaction ‘we’ as a people get from peaking through the window at others.

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    • I’m hoping that the Alaska reality bug is dying out. It makes us here look like ill-prepared idiots. Maybe they could focus on another part of the country for a while … although I’m sure people in New Jersey probably cringe when they see Snooky on TV.

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  5. You get to the heart of exactly what I have a problem with, with this subject matter. I can’t stand it and I’m probably a little too passionate about sharing my opinions of why. That said, it was interesting to see into the lives of the Crab Fisherman on deadliest catch, and some other shows that really reveal how things are done. However, the kardashians and things like that should just be burned. LOL

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    • Well, yeah, crab fishing in the north Pacific is exciting all on its own. An errant wave can end your life in a minute. But most of these shows are just a waste of time and to make them interesting, they are highly manipulated. I honestly believe that building our cabin will be 90% boring sweat equity with an opportunity to be eaten by a grizzly bear that cannot be planned. It will be fun-ish to do, but why would anyone want to watch that? Well, except for the possibility of the bear, but if the bear doesn’t show up … send a staff into the bushes to pretend and everybody act scared. No thank you very much!

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