Just to get things straight right from the start: I don’t watch reality television. That does not mean that I haven’t ever watched it, but I choose not to. I choose not to because I generally find that it caters to the lowest common denominator (common being the operative word), and it just does not interest me. I don’t think that this is snobbery on my part, just an expression of personal taste. I don’t like reality TV.
That being said, I have been in the room while One Born Every Minute is on (my fiancee loves it). For those of you that don’t know the show, it is a fly-on-the-wall reality show/documentary set in the maternity ward of Leeds General Infirmary. Each episode follows the experiences of two or three women (and their partners) as they give birth. It also gives the audience an insight into the working lives of the nursing staff on the ward. It is a fairly warts-and-all show, merely blurring out details for the sake of privacy, but shows the blood and screams with a dispassionate lens that borders on the voyeuristic.
So far, so good. My problem with the show (apart from the fact that it is an hour of women screaming in pain) is that it is the laziest show ever broadcast. The cameras are all mounted on the walls, so there are no camera operators in the room. There may be a remote operator to rotate and zoom the main camera, but most of the cameras are fixed. So they have basically gaffer taped a bunch of cameras around the ward and buggered off for a spot of lunch. In addition to this, there are a series of ‘talking heads’ shots of the mother and partner taken before the labour, which must have involved a small crew, and obviously an editor must have fiddled about on Avid for an hour or so to put it together. Beyond that, there is nothing: no interviewer, no voice-over, no presenter. Just nurses, midwives, pregnant women and partners. And screaming. Lots of screaming.
So, that’s One Born Every Minute, a lazy piece of reality television. To give it its due, it is real. It certainly doesn’t let the conventions of television documentaries get in the way of what it is trying to do! It is a (kind of) logical progression of the Big Brother method of television making: get a bunch of c*nts and film them doing things.
Yes, you’ve guessed it. I’ve been saving the largest portion of my bile for this cavalcade of idiocy. Big Brother, the 21st century equivalent of the Victorian lunatic asylum: pay a penny and gawp at the crazy people rolling in their own shit. It has been noted before that the sobriquet ‘reality TV’ has a touch of irony about it, as the show is pretty far from the reality of most people’s lives. In the beginning, way back in 1999, Dutch TV company Endemol broadcast the first ever series of this insanely popular show, which was picked up by several other countries (including Britain) in 2000. the first UK series tried to present the format as a legitimate social experiment. Experts were consulted for their opinions on the housemates and their situation, psychological and sociological interpretations of behaviour were advanced and discussed. I’ll even admit to watching the odd episode (largely to see if anyone had flipped and started wearing a suit made out of their housemates skins – alas, this was not to be).
Endemol and Channel 4, who broadcast the show for eleven seasons, before low viewing figures caused it to migrate to the low-rent Channel 5, soon rid themselves of the pretence that there was anything remotely intellectual about the show and simply filled the house with people that were guaranteed to get on everybody else’s nerves (apparently both in the BB house and watching at home). Probably the most famous example of this tactic was Jade Goody. Jade appeared on the third series of the show and embodied all that was sleazy and dispicable about it. I am not a prude, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have some standards, and her behaviour on NATIONAL TELEVISION, in front of an AUDIENCE OF MILLIONS, was truly shocking. She repeatedly exposed her ignorance (on an unbelievable scale) and, although we shouldn’t criticise someone for a lack of intelligence, her level of stupidity was stunning – and ignorance in the truest sense of the word. She believed that East Anglia (or ‘East Angular’) was ‘abroad’ and that Cambridge was in London. She also wandered around virtually naked while drunk, again in front of an AUDIENCE OF MILLIONS, and enjoyed a drunken fumble with fellow housemate PJ (although whether he enjoyed it is not recorded).
Jade went on to front her very own reality TV shows, before returning to appear in Celebrity Big Brother in 2007, in which she (along with housemates Jo O’Meara of the pop group SClub and Danielle Lloyd, ‘glamour’ model and former Miss Great Britain) was involved in the racist bullying of Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty. After her eviction from the BB house, Goody made multiple grovelling apologies and even featured in the Indian version of the show. Sadly, Jade developed cervical cancer and died in 2010.
I probably shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, and it really isn’t Jade’s fault, but she was thrust onto the British public as a ‘reality TV star’, a representative of the people, despite the fact that the majority of people couldn’t stand her. She was poorly educated, poorly behaved and openly racist. These are not qualities most of us would want in an ambassador of ordinary people, and yet she was lauded as such.
This is the depressing truth about reality television: it is a place for those without talent or prospects to become famous. Charlie Brooker invented the phrase ‘wanking for coins’ in one of his Guardian articles, and that is exactly what is happening. Jade was willing, even eager, to debase herself on national television for the chance at fame. She was a desperate creature, more worthy of our pity than out hatred, but we allowed her need, her addiction, to be fed. We watched this fame junkie self-destruct in front of us and then pressed the red button for more. Even her death was plastered across the media, her weak eyes and chemo-bald pate leering from newspapers and magazines. It was truly sickening.
Reality television has moved on slightly since the halcyon days of Big Brother. Audiences are demanding either a modicum of talent or the opportunity to sneer at the lack thereof. I am talking, of course, about the X-Factor and similar.
Look at that sneering tosser. And we (the general public) are allowing him, in fact we are PAYING him, to pipe his filthy, stinking, ‘musical’ shit into our living rooms. He has become famous for being ‘Mr Nasty’, openly ridiculing people who are already seriously insecure and nervous for their lack of musical ability. He then picks the most mediocre voice and manufactures a pop star out of it, unless someone with genuine talent comes along, in which case he pushes them to perform until they have a nervous breakdown. The lie of shows like X-Factor and Pop Idol and all the similar shows, is that it just takes that one break to be a famous pop star. Thousands of people audition for a spot on the show, and only a handful ever make it (almost invariably the best looking of the talented ones). If they do anything silly, like wanting to sing their own songs or play a musical instrument, they are quietly taken into a darkened room and are beaten with rubber truncheons while being forced to watch Spice Girls videos and being drip-fed psychotropic drugs. Probably.
And don’t even get me started on all the home makeover shows, the antique/car boot sale shows, the ‘God, you’re ugly! Let’s take you shopping’ shows, the dancing/ice skating/West End musical shows. The list is endless.
In the end, reality TV is all bullshit. It grossly misrepresents the members of the public who appear on these shows, selectively editing and broadcasting the bits that show them in whatever light the producers have decided they will be shown in. It corrupts and betrays them, shattering dreams and perverting personalities. It creates monsters and angels from ordinary people, but the angels can never live up to the fantasy, and the very same media that launched them into the clouds will happily shoot them down again. The monsters, of course, will never crawl out of the pit that the show digs for them.
I would be quite happy for this ridiculous craze to die out, because then, just possibly, television companies will start investing in some decent shows again. God knows, they need to do something to attract viewers back again. They may as well try broadcasting a range of shows, rather than a hundred variations on the same theme.
Who knows, maybe we’ll get something worth watching.
I’m not going to hold my breath though.