Reality (sic) TV

‘Reality’ TV is the opposite of reality. It is fiction masquerading as reality.

The cameras are never forgotten by those present, even though we viewers are supposed to pretend the camera crew’s presence doesn’t affect how the people on the show behave.

The inside scoop is all of the scenes portrayed on these shows are basically scripted, even if the dialog isn’t (and often it is). The people on these shows aren’t playing themselves; they’re amateur B- or C-grade actors pretending to be someone we’re supposed to think they’re exactly like in real-life.

Les Stroud of "Survivorman."

Les Stroud of “Survivorman.”

Those people on the ‘survival’ reality shows are never in any real danger, because there are safety crews. Even the guy I actually like and have learned some useful tips from, Les Stroud, even though he shoots all his own video, nevertheless doesn’t record his regular daily contacts with his safety crews. Sure, he puts himself in some very uncomfortable situations, but always in the back of his mind is the comforting knowledge that escape is one radio call away. Which he’s done on more than a few occasions when a bad situation became a little too ‘real.’ (CORRECTION: Mr. Stroud has reached out to me personally and said (1) he is not in daily contact with his safety teams and (2) he has not ever actually had to ask for rescue. Mea culpa.)

And the guys on the fishing boats aren’t actually desperate for that ‘last catch of the season’ — because as long as they bluster all macho-style for the cameras, they can count on the TV syndication checks to tide them over. The ‘homesteaders’ in Alaska mostly put on little vignette scenes to show what they would’ve done 20-odd years ago before the Discover channel showed up and gave ’em enough money to live comfortably (and usually elsewhere) whenever the cameras are turned off.

(For instance, it is never EVER mentioned that the Kilcher homestead on Kachemak Bay is a mere 5 miles or so from the town of Homer, Alaska, population 5,000, with dozens of stores, restaurants, and attractions; and with Kenai, an even bigger town with a Walmart and Home Depot, another hour or so up the coast on Hwy 1. Oh no — those folks are living on the frontier! “Have to kill that bear or go hungry… ‘cuz the Safeway in Homer might be short on ground beef and frozen pizzas this week.” (/snark))*

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And these ‘ethnic’ reality shows, that John has written about, are nothing but voyeuristic soap operas, where the actors are told to behave outrageously and stereotypically by the producers and show-runners — because NORMAL is repetitive and boring. They’re instructed to ham it up as much as possible. The shows are as real as a Harlem Globetrotters basketball game, or any TV wrestling match.

It’s just trash TV, ‘Potemkin Village’ shows. Trash sells, and the TV producers like ‘reality’ (sic) shows because they’re crazy-cheap to make. It’s the fast-food version of entertainment. You think maybe you’re consuming something genuine, but afterwards you just feel numb, bloated, and vaguely dirty.

* = I know a fair amount about the survival-ish / homesteading shows because my wife is into them, and sometimes we watch together, because not everything is about the shows I’d prefer. ;-)


Published professional writer and poet, Becca had a three decade career in technical writing and consulting before selling off most of her possessions in 2006 to go live at an ashram in India for 3 years. She loves literature (especially science fiction), technology and science, progressive politics, cool electronic gadgets, and perfecting Hatch green chile recipes. Fortunately for this last, Becca and her wife currently live in New Mexico. @BeccaMorn

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  • Really? Gonna move those goalposts yet again, huh? Go ahead and take offense from a pair of quote marks and the fact I didn’t write an off-the-cuff comment as thoroughly and exactly as you would have written it.

    I wrote a comment the way I often write comments here and all over the ‘Net, with information off the top of my head — which isn’t always accurate and not always expressed in the best, most perfect words or punctuation. John took that comment and reposted it. He did not ask me if I wanted it posted. He did not give me a chance to edit or expand upon it. It was not a researched post, and I mentioned two of the reality shows I’m familiar with (but apparently in one case not familiar enough), referred to briefly some others I’ve heard of and seen commercials about, and “lumped together” the other ones John wrote about.

    Apparently this and my writing tic of overusing quotes marks (which I usually remove when I have a chance to edit my stuff for publication) shoved a gigantic bug up your ass.

    Given the time, I might’ve found a more elegant way to note my agreement with John, that many of these ethnically-themed reality shows are, in fact, an appalling form of cultural racism. But I went with quotes because it was faster to type and I figured all but the extremely irony-challenged would get what I meant. (Guess I found the outside limit on ‘extremely.’)

    Are you going to apologize to me for mistaking my promoted, unedited comment for an intentionally researched blog post that had a deadline to be met?

    Would you in your high-and-mighty judgment deign now to give me a ‘pass’ because you have, from the start, been entirely wrong — repeatedly — about the origins of this particular blog post, as well as its intent? A post which, as far as I was concerned never should’ve been promoted from a comment without significant additional writing and editing?

    I apologize when I’m wrong, as I did to Mr. Stroud. I don’t apologize to those who aren’t even criticizing me for the right reasons or on points of verifiable facts. I guess admitting when you were mistaken isn’t your style.

    If it gives you warm self-righteous fuzzies to think I’m some kind of frothing-at-the-mouth racist because I used a pair of irony quotes when you wouldn’t have and I wasn’t familiar enough with those Greek and New Jersey Italian reality shows to say anything in detail about them, then be my guest.

    Because you know what? I don’t need your approval or your goddamned ‘pass.’

    If your goal all along was to piss me off with an asinine criticism that proceeded entirely from faulty assumptions, you succeeded. Bravo and congratulations. Go now and enjoy those feelings of smug superiority, you earned them.

  • BloggerDave

    You wrote it as you intended it, “ethnic” and all…

  • It wasn’t a deadline. It was a comment that I NEVER intended to be put up as a post, and was neither asked nor consulted before John posted it, nor was I ever given a chance to edit the post before it went up, so stow your goddamned misplaced blog-scold self-righteousness, too.

  • BloggerDave

    No outrage here and I don’t need an apology… Your deadlines don’t give you a pass either…

  • Mr. Stroud was owed my apology.

    I don’t owe one to you, Dave, or anyone else who may have objected to the 10-minutes-to-write comment that John chose to recycle as a blog post. So please set aside your outrage and chill the fuck out.

  • BloggerDave

    You should also apologize for lumping all people of color into the ‘ethic’ category and not discussing them individually as you did with Stroud… And FYI, putting ethnic in quotes doesn’t give you a pass…

  • Dick_Woodcock

    A guy I once worked with in Michigan also got a call from Judge Judy.
    He sued his babymamma because she took $350 from a piggy bank that he had filled and was saving for his kid. The folks at Judge Judy look through the public court records for anything that might resemble juicy family drama.

  • Apparently my post up there needs a correction: Mr. Stroud reached out to me via Twitter to assure me he doesn’t have daily contact with his safety crews. Presumably they’re there if he really needs them, but he doesn’t instigate contact unless some emergency warrants such.

    I’ve extended an apology and a mea culpa for my error.

  • Bcre8ve

    This phenomena is what gave us “Balloon Boy”, and I’m sure countless other ill-advised “productions” by people hoping to cash in on the “Duck Dynasty” and “Honey Boo-Boo” lottery.

    Unfortunately, as with these “stars”, this method leaves you blind to any potential issues, such as the DDD’s homophobia, HBB’s mother’s love of sexual predators, the Duggar’s foray into quashing civil rights, and even the BB’s father’s ill-advised shot at fame, which should have tarnished the whole industry.

    Reality TV has become a microcosm of everything bad in America. I would think the (few) networks that showcase this stuff would aspire to be more than that, (remember when Bravo was TV for the arts?), but anything for a buck, I suppose.

  • Bcre8ve

    We got a letter from the ‘Judge Judy’ show once, after we had filed a small claims case. We called and talked to them, but what they said they really wanted was some sort of family drama (and I’m guessing that if I had sounded a little more “redneck” or other stereotype they may have taken it anyway. This was NC they were trawling for cases, not CA where filmed.)

    They are “trainwreck” TV. You know it’s a pile of human wreckage, but so many people just can’t look away!

  • Bcre8ve

    I guess I figured out that the “reality” on these shows might not be so real when they started listing 20+ writers in the credits. Even on shows like “The Flavor of Love” with Flavor Flav!

    What I want to figure out next is how to get one of those jobs. Nah. Never mind. Couldn’t possibly be worth it.

  • sonoitabear

    When we were thinking of purchasing a vacation condo in Quintana Roo, the realtor asked us if we’d like to be on “House Hunters International” with him AFTER we made a final purchase… We looked for another realtor….

  • Bill_Perdue

    These circuses won’t disabuse people from opposing Obama’s unending wars any more the ‘Great Society’ gave LBJ or Nixon a pass on their genocide in Vietnam.

  • nicho

    It’s like the HouseHunter Show. You see the home buyers looking at three different properties and debating the pros and cons of each. In reality, they have already picked the home, made an offer, and have it under agreement — before the segment is shot.

  • judybrowni

    I know some of the writers for reality shows: they’re called producers (so the reality shows don’t have to pay them Writers Guild rates, as well as acknowledge the shows are scripted.)

    Also: I have a friend who has appeared a couple times on a reality show — although his life is pretty interesting and he has previously bought from that store some lovely, wacky things that would make fun TV, the producers have always handed him a script ahead of time based on their own ideas, with no import from him.

  • nicho

    Well, it’s a lot like our government — which is pretty much a reality show put on by Corporatists. They pretend to scream and yell and fight and whatever. But, in the end, they all work for the same guys — and those guys aren’t us. None of it is real. It’s all just a show. Even our multi-billion dollar elections are rigged from the get go. They have to pretend it’s real, because otherwise, the suckers (that’s us) wouldn’t send in our hard-earned money to help our team win. But no matter how much screaming, yelling, impeaching, and other crap goes on, in the end, the Corporatists get what they want.

  • Drew2u

    “The ‘homesteaders’ in Alaska mostly put on little vignette scenes to show what they would’ve done 20-odd years ago before the Discover channel showed up and gave ‘em enough money to live comfortably (and usually elsewhere) whenever the cameras are turned off”

    Not speaking to this specific scenario, but “The Discovery Channel” usually doesn’t actually show up or do anything within the field production of a program. (almost) All shows are done by a production company and the show is optioned and sold to a network. The same happens with movies and movie studios – a production company assumes the liability of cost and insurance while the studio releases it to the public. If a movie flops or an accident happens (See: Sarah Jones), the production company takes the burden while the studio/network is insulated, being a third-party and technically uninvolved except for future financial stakes. This is also why a television show can switch networks and still create new episodes (i.e. Futurama or Lost Girl (?) ).

    And that touches upon the part I pulled; it’s a yes/no scenario of how “real” any given program is – it depends on the production. Any good production will always have the safety of the hosts in mind to prevent accidents such as this. So, to be a NALT, the safety of the hosts is penultimate – which is why “remote” locations tend to be not too far from a major city, along with the basic logistics of a film shoot on a schedule. The comfortability of the hosts, however – in if they stay in a hotel room or actually outdoors or whatever, is up to the producers.

    With all that said, I am not defending the content side of these shows or how ‘nutritious’ they are educationally or socially, but everything has logistics of production. (Even glass coke bottles and hersey kisses aren’t actually produced by miniature musical, dancing, magical factories)

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