Who decides which reality?

Issues of authenticity and reality-bending have been on my mind quite a lot recently and, as always, the very fact I’m preoccupied with the topics means that I seem to be finding them mirrored all over the place.

However, news of the fake Big Brother monstrosity in Istanbul couldn’t fail to get the cogs turning again. It sounds like the plot to several horror films I’ve guiltily enjoyed, except luckily no one died. They were victims of plenty though.

The thing that’s really intrigued me is the layers of lies and false realities created by Big Brother-style shows. Such as the faked scenes, the manipulation of intent that can be caused with careful editing and even the fact that people, however genuine they claim to be, are sure to be performing from the second the camera switches on.

In a way, this case seems like an extension of the falsity ‘reality’ TV can foster to me. Reports have appeared claiming that the women were told to behave certain ways for the camera, whether by this point they knew they were captive or whether they performed tasks against their will or not is the question that circles around my mind.

Where does the autonomy come in? Where is the line and how are we to know when human rights are being violated? Is it as soon as someone does something on a programme that may be broadcast that is inappropriate or that they aren’t comfortable with? If so, what about talk shows? They are barely ‘real’ but we are shown people and their situations as though it is their reality. What is reality anyway? The story you tell top yourself or the story other people tell you? My brain hurts.

Reality shows as writing inspiration

I have a love/hate relationship with reality TV shows. On one hand I genuinely worry that they are in danger of diluting the pool of decent TV shows to the extent that no one will know what it means to write a compelling series anymore, and on the other hand I think they can be a fantastic resource for writers – think of the exposure to people you would never come across in your day-to-day life shows like Big Brother offer.

While I find many reality offerings rather exploitative, a selection of American talk shows for example, there are some that at least do seem to offer something like decent advice and support for their participants. Not that that’s done the Jeremy Kyle show many favours recently. But when I’m not squirming at the horror of seeing the hopes, fears and dreams of some teenage girl dashed on screen, I’m busy filing mental notes about exactly the way she looked as she realised the world didn’t work the way she’d always assumed.

I also find that it salves the conscience to assume that there are different categories of reality TV show and that some are worse than others. For example, ‘fat kids humiliated in camp’ could have future benefits for the child while ‘I’m addicted to meth, attention and public breakdowns’ probably doesn’t. Shows like the Secret Millionaire however, well, I just can’t see a single bad side to them. Except that the heart warming reaffirmation we receive at the end of every programme doesn’t exactly provide me with juicy material!