Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Reality TV: Love It or Loathe It?

Pleasure Island was officially released today! As the book is set on a reality tv show, I thought I would dedicate this entry to the subject of reality television.

According to the editor's notes for Pleasure Island, the novel will be enjoyed by those 'who both love and loathe reality tv.' This was a perceptive comment because it really sums up my attitude towards reality shows. I can still remember the excitement surrounding the first series of Big Brother in Australia, which seemed at the time like a bold new social experiment. Who can forget Sarah Maree's bum dance and Peter and Christina's dancing doona? Back then there weren't so many stupid stunts and games, and the contestants spent a lot of time just sitting around talking.

I could really relate to this scenario because as a student I lived in a share house for a year where each of the six bedrooms were rented out separately. My friend had lived in the house for months on her own, and I moved in expecting it just to be the two of us, but within a couple of weeks all six rooms were rented out and we were living with four complete strangers (one of whom was insane, and was later arrested for fraud, and carted off by the police - but that's another story!). At the time my part-time study load was about 4 hours a week, and the other students had either dropped out altogether or just didn't bother to go to classes. We had no money and huge amounts of time on our hands, so like the Big Brother contestants, we spent much of our time just hanging around the house together.

What I loved about the first Big Brother was the fact that it really reflected the true dynamics of a share house. It was fun watching the personality clashes and fights over the dishes, and listening to the inane and sometimes hilarious conversations people have when their stuck with each other for long periods of time. The next series lost some of this authenticity, and I stopped watching after the third series. The contestants became attention-seekers and wannabes, and the stunts grew stupider each year (in one of the last episodes I saw they were forced to eat testicles for a challenge).

I set Pleasure Island on a reality show because I wanted to try to capture some of the charm of the original series of Big Brother. Jack and Allie are sent to a deserted island, where they have no contact with the outside world and no games or stunts to distract them. They must spend 14 hours a day together, and even though they both want to be seen in the best possible light by the audience, they can't help but reveal their true characters.

Most reality shows are so manufactured now that they can in no way be called 'reality.' Many of them are based on competitions, like Project Runway or the Biggest Loser, or they are scripted, but pretend they're not, like the Kardashian's. I'd like to see some more 'fly-on-the-wall' style reality shows, because for me these are the most fascinating. The Family (ABC, Australia) is a good example of a show that took the old-fashioned approach and it gives me hope that good quality shows will continue to be produced. With any luck reality tv might not lose touch with reality altogether!



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