Lizzie Marvelly: Reality TV - How did I miss the memo?

Kim Kardashian - part of an alternate reality. Photo / Instagram
Kim Kardashian - part of an alternate reality. Photo / Instagram

The television in my lounge recently disconnected itself from Freeview. I hadn't noticed, until my parents came to stay and tried to watch the 6pm news. Try as they might, they couldn't get it to work, and a week later the screen is still blank. Which may well be an improvement for some channels.

I like to imagine that my generally reliable TV has gone on strike. The launch of Bravo was the last straw, and it's finally decided it can no longer work under such conditions. Funnily enough, it has no problem with Netflix, and is more than happy to play episode after episode of Orange Is The New Black, but when it comes to network television, it's making its own quiet cry for revolution.

And I don't blame it. If I were forced to act as a conduit for The Real Housewives of Auckland I'd walk off the job too. Every time I read about it, or its equally nauseating sibling Beauty and the Beach, I can almost feel my brain cells wither and die, drowning in a toxic cesspit of Botox, champagne, lipo-sucked fat and narcissism and dripping out my ears like putrefied fish guts.

I know, tell us what you really think, Lizzie.

I tried my hand at The Bachelor earlier this year, but I found that I couldn't even hate-watch it. Why? Frankly, I found it boring. If it weren't for its numerous crimes against feminism and the impact they had upon my heart rate, it probably would've sent me to sleep.

The thing is, it's all very well for me to turn up my nose, but I'm well aware that I'm the weirdo. I must be one of the last people on earth to never have seen an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. I'm as useful as tits on a bull in a conversation about MasterChef. I'm up the creek without a paddle if I'm invited to a reality TV-themed party, like a bewildered tourist in a foreign land, desperately searching for the familiar golden arches.

People really enjoy watching reality TV. That it has grown to be a billion-dollar industry is testament to the fact that it offers something that viewers clearly want to watch. As an outsider, standing baffled in the hinterland, I'm trying to understand how I missed the memo.

I know just how easy it would be to dismiss my aversion to reality television as a kind of supercilious superiority complex, and I've taken a long, hard look in the proverbial mirror. It's not like I'm watching Discovery Channel and award-winning documentaries every night. I have guilty pleasures of my own (Mariah Carey and Grey's Anatomy to name a few) and my binge-watching habits put me in no position to judge anyone else.

But it's the complete suspension of disbelief required to watch so-called reality TV that ruins it for me. If I'm going to watch something I know to be false, I'd rather watch a show that's not pretending to be real. Characters that are telling their stories without breaking the fourth wall, rather than people play-acting whichever heightened version of themselves they think will win them the largest number of followers and the most lucrative endorsement deals when the season ends.

Television producers seem to be locked in a perpetual race to the bottom.

To me, watching reality TV is a bit like watching an episodic advertisement. And it's not just the sponsors who are getting in on the action. Among the blatant product placements (Michael Hill and Suzuki Swift, take a bow) viewers are basically witnessing brand development, as reality contestants transform themselves from nobodies to product pushers - from Art Green's protein powders to Kim Kardashian's vast empire.

And then there are the gimmicky formats. Before reality TV, I had never once wondered what would happen if you put 20 or so women in a house together and made them compete over a man. I'd never heard of Honey Boo Boo. I had no interest in watching couples have sex in a box with a studio audience listening to every breath and moan. I didn't care about how privileged Auckland housewives filled up their days.

To be fair, post-reality TV, I still don't.

In the reality television age, brains are out and voyeurism is in. Critical thinking is so dusty a concept that few people know what it means anymore. Television producers seem to be locked in a perpetual race to the bottom.

While we do our best to feed our bodies with 5+ a day, what about our minds? Just as a diet consisting entirely of cheese will give you scurvy (and numerous other afflictions, no doubt), a viewing schedule dominated by reality television can hardly be lauded for its mental nutritional value. Dance Moms is many things, but brain food it is not.

And I say all this as a one-time judge on a little-known reality talent show that I won't name for fear that someone will dredge it up from the archives. Although the show in question was on the tame and heart-warming side, complete with singing musterers and nurses, when you've seen it made, you can no longer be under any illusion that there is anything real about reality television.

What concerns me most is the long-term impact. When shows like Campbell Live are cancelled and funding for public broadcasting remains frozen, are we reaping what we've sown by giving our ratings to the broadcasting equivalents of candyfloss? We may be high on the sugar rush, but when it crashes, what will we have left to sustain us?

Think I'm over-reacting? Look at the US. As much as it pains me to say it, they may well have brought Donald Trump upon themselves. Thanks, in no small part, to reality television, they now have a blustering whirlwind of yellow fluff running for the office of President of the United States.

How I wish there was nothing real about that.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 05 Dec 2016 14:14:04 Processing Time: 335ms