Sunday, October 23, 2011

Whose reality?

I don't like reality TV.

I have two improbable exceptions to this: Dog the Bounty Hunter (I know, right?) and cooking shows. I love Japanese Iron Chef, I love Hell's Kitchen, I love Masterchef.

But "regular" reality TV? The Real World, Jersey Shore, Survivor? No, thank you. I'm from the Jersey Shore, and that's not my reality. It isn't now, and it wasn't while I was there. But I loved the Bones episode about it.

I'm kind of a weirdo when it comes to "true" stories. When I read non-fiction, I prefer it to be written in a narrative style, or I'm typically not grabbed by it.

Also, remember that big deal a few years back when, *gasp* A Million Little Pieces by James Frey wasn't a completely true story? Didn't care. For me, memoirs and biographies read like fiction anyway, for the most part. But a lot of people were upset. Oprah made him cry on the air. A tiny, white-haired woman came to the library front desk, leaning heavily on her cane, and shoved the book across from me (making the "disgust" face, if you've watched Lie to Me), and said "I was so. Disappointed."

Until then, I hadn't read A Million Little Pieces, but okay, I bit. And wow. I finished it, which is more than I can say for Naked Lunch (and I still bear a grudge against William S. Burroughs for that one), but that was a brutal and sordid book. It was decently written, and entertaining. So what was the big deal? Was it because people felt "fooled" or "tricked"? Would they never have read it, had it been marketed as fiction?

Really, though, when I watch TV it's for the escapism of it. I want to see stories that wouldn't be a part of my life. I loved The X-Files for its entire run, and yes, that includes the most recent movie. I really like the show Lie to Me, recently discovered, and of course cancelled. I own all of Lost (thank you, honey), but sadly, regretfully, haven't watched all of it yet. I want creative, fantastic, and ridiculous, which is one reason Dog the Bounty Hunter still appeals; it might as well be fiction.

If I want a book that's my life, I'll write my memoirs, but probably won't read them after editing completes. Why should I? We like the familiar, and frequently crave it, but the familiar doesn't light up my imagination and make me wish I had a notebook. For that, I need the fantastic.


  1. What's bizarre about reality shows is that they aren't real. It's all ginned up conflict -- it's like putting a fly in a jar and watching it knock up against the glass. For fun, poor fly!

    You're not seeing how flies "really are," you're seeing how a fly behaves under very stressful, artificial conditions.

    Part of the whole frisson is that we all know that the participants have debased themselves, which contributes to the weird sense of power and superiority we feel since we are after all outside the jar, not fluttering around inside it.

    The only reality shows I watch regularly are the ones where there's actually some sort of competition involves -- like the chef's shows you mention -- then, at least, the poor fly has some control over his destiny. Makes it seem somewhat fair at least.

  2. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    I think you've made a very good observation: the reality is a stressful, "fake" one, which is really a very big confound to the whole notion.

    And even on those cooking shows (Hell's Kitchen in particular) you have to wonder what's actually going on. I mean, if you really hate somebody, or somebody hates you, is a screaming match with all of those knives around the best way to handle it? That's a Law and Order episode waiting to happen.

  3. Kirsten hit the nail on the head. It's like any other drama. Once you see the puppet strings, you can see how it's structured. I got sucked into the last season of Hell's Kitchen, and you can always tell who's going home because they telegraph it like crazy.

    I do like the BBC version of Hell's Kitchen, because there's far less screaming and far more emphasis on the food. The Fox version loves to ramp up (or outright fabricate) the drama; the BBC version is much saner and pleasant.

  4. In general, I prefer BBC's Gordon Ramsay to America's. They allow him to be a real person, instead of a raving lunatic; really, without the connectivity that we have nowadays, we would have no idea that there were two Gordon Ramsays. I haven't watched all of it, but "The F Word" is a show I really wish had gotten syndicated, as-is.

    I'm still watching this season's Hell's Kitchen, wondering how they're going to top the drama next season. Maybe give everybody meth?

  5. I'm kind of done with Hell's Kitchen after this current season. They've fallen so far from the beginning of the show. Remember when they would have the cooks make their own mini-restaurants? Now they just have another stupid dinner service to determine the winner. And they got rid of that braying harpy Elise for all of two minutes before bringing her right back.

  6. The mini-restaurants were always so fantastic! And always had a "setback" that the chef had to work around, which I thought was both planned and a good idea. I'm always amazed by how tragic dinner servies still are when there are still 6 or 7 people left. Really? Come on guys.