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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Unreality TV

I went over to the seminary library this weekend to look around at various publications for the possibility of submitting a journal article. This was supposed to be a quick trip - half hour to an hour.....three hours later I was copying like mad to get all of my copies made before the library closed. I came across so many cool articles that I just had to have them. So, I'll be posting some of my reactions to some of these cool articles in the next week or two, and you, my friend, will be on the cutting edge of what people are writing on!

The first article is called "Unreality TV: How the Ubiquitous Genre Actually Misrepresents Life" published in Christianity Today. Miller has a bit of a problem with reality tv:
Instead of showing us our truest selves, it plays to our worst impulses and misperceptions, making in the end, a spectacle of our inner lives. Like other forms of voyeurism, it actually diminishes our taste for reality.

There is a reality out there: grand, awful, mysterious, and threatening. The truth, though, is that we postmoderns usually want reality packaged for us. Keep it titillating. Keep it shallow. Keep it safe. But the God of life is neither titillating, nor shallow, nor safe..The more we evade him and a lively participation in his world, the less real we become.

I'm hoping that those of you who love reality tv can weigh in here. And, I guess, those of you who hate reality tv can throw your two cents it as well....But here is my thought: Doesn't everybody know by this point that reality tv isn't reality? In the beginning we lived under the illusion that we were witnessing "real live." MTV's "Real World," "Survivor" and other shows first crashed on to the scene and it seemed raw and realistic. It was almost as though we were witnessing real people living real lives and a camera just happened to be there.

But don't we know better, now??? Don't we all realize that so-called "reality" television is just planned and manipulated as regular television. This is so much the case that one of the most popular television shows these days, "The Office" - a show I thoroughly enjoy, by the way - is a scripted show that is scripted to appear to be a documentary, even though we all know it is not a documentary. It is a sitcom in the form of a documentary - a "docu-sitcom," if you will.

Furthermore, I do realize that tv "plays to our worst impulses," but that's the point of television. It captures the extremes. It has to have shock value in order to entertain. I'm not here to pretend that this does not adversely affect our society and culture because it does have a very negative impact. However, it is a reality of who we are as a culture, and I think most of us understand that by this point. From a theological perspective, the big/small screens of television and movies put the depravity of humanity on display. This is nothing unique to reality tv. It's been around for a while.

Lastly, I find it curious that Miller says that "we postmoderns usually want reality packaged for us. Keep it titillating. Keep it shallow. Keep it safe." I think I see where he is coming from, but being a child of the 90's I still want to "keep it real." I find myself pulled towards things that are "raw" and "natural." We want organic foods and all natural juices. We've long since lost the fascination with things that are "artificial" and "synthetic." And wasn't it that same "realness" that drew people to reality tv to begin with? I think there are a great many of us that get tired of things that are "packaged" - the fast food culture that we live in. And in this way I think Miller may be overgeneralizing a bit.

In any case, I appreciate Miller's last comment that God is not shallow or safe.


Dawn said...

I'm not a big reality tv person, but I do watch The Biggest Loser.

It's pretty awesome, because they find these folks who need to lose weight for health reasons and professionals give them the tools they need to keep it up when they're back home.

Melody said...

I like Extreme Home Makeover for similar reasons. It's people with real problems really getting help.

Now, I realize that the only reason this show exists is because it is cheaper to build a huge house every week than to pay writers and actor's for a sitcom or drama (especially when you factor in the donations by Lowe's, Sears, Ford etc. that gain those companies air time that makes them look generous).

And I know that the design/building crew has obviously scripted lines.

Even so, that doesn't hurt the families that are helped.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Miller mentions this in his article, but he is still cynical because of how much exposure the corporations get....I guess that's understandable, but nonetheless they are doing real good for real people and that's cool....

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