Myths about reality TV

Someone who is unemployed and homeless is not a news item – unless he happens to be the father of a former participant in a reality show. On January 6, a television crew surrounded a homeless man who was talking by mobile phone to anchorman Nikos Evangelatos on the evening news. It is to be wondered what good this sort of «reporting» does to the person himself, his son, or to society. The first two reality shows of the season (a third, «Gym Show,» was discontinued after a month because of low ratings) are now over, but the genre is alive and well. The television channels are keeping the interest up so as to retain audiences for the next round in spring, and this involves keeping certain myths alive. Myth 1: Man in the street Participants in the «Big Brother» show were touted as being «everyday heroes,» which was true enough, but only half the truth. They became famous because they agreed to expose their lives 24 hours a day and to allow this «reality» to be edited and served up like meat on a plate. Myth 2: «Ignore them» Every reference to reality shows is tantamount to an advertisement. Those who claim to be above criticism say it is like trying to throw stones at the smog. Don’t eat imitation products, they say. But there is little alternative, and the only products to be found on our televisual supermarket shelves are versions of the same product. Myth 3: Opportunity for youth A CD by Heaven, which belongs to the Antenna group, of songs performed by the participants on «Fame Story» is doing well (naturally, given the powerful advertising campaign). Many promises are made, but few are fulfilled. Some former participants have been hired as extras on morning shows, but a former participant on «Big Brother 2,» a charming and modest girl who now works as a salesgirl, said that despite vague promises, she had had no real job offer. Myth 4: Not all are bad The first «Big Brother» show marked the genre’s age of innocence, claim some. Only later did the participants wake up. It is true that in comparison with similar shows abroad, local products are tame indeed. However, vulgarity and degradation are not measurable, unlike the profits from advertisements, tele-voting and various competitions. It is possible to make comparisons between production costs, the skill of the direction, the charm of the presenter or the average education level of the participants, but the basic idea is more or less the same. Myth 5: It’s what people want This argument is akin to the old-fashioned saying «People get the goverment they deserve.» If one only focuses on the figures, it seems that the reality shows are indeed popular. About 2 million viewers saw the new year in with «Farm» and 1.5 million saw the old year out with «Fame Story» (many were watching both at the same time). However, ratings do not necessarily mean approval. The millions of Greeks who watched «Unknown War» during the dictatorship were not admirers of military regimes. Reality shows are the only thing providing the illusion of communication for millions of people stuck in their homes, without any desire, time or money to fly to loftier heights. Myth 6. There is worse Why throw stones at reality shows, when some evening news bulletins have become even worse versions of the genre. It is true that programs such as «Couple of the Year» are an insult to the intelligence and dignity of both viewers and participants. And, after all, there are real problems out there, ones that we have a duty to concern ourselves with. However, how many of us has the missionary zeal to devote 24 hours a day to trying to resolve them? Downplaying problems because there are bigger and more serious ones is a well-worn method used to perpetuate them and to destroy any criticism. Myth 7. A worldwide phenomenon This year only one-third of Britons will have a number of options about how to spend their free time. The other two-thirds of adult Britons will only go shopping or watch television. «Children will spend 10 hours in front of the TV for every hour spent reading a book, and the only topic of conversation for the whole family will be reality shows, which will top the ratings again,» according to the Economist-Kathimerini publication «The World in 2003.» A front-page article in the International Herald Tribune (January 2, 2003) describes the decline in American television productions of prize-winning quality series such as «The Sopranos» and «CSI» in the world market. From France to Singapore and Latin America, the reality format is the rule. The only exception is Australia, where there was a slight fall in the ratings of these shows. The phenomenon is indeed an international one, but that doesn’t mean that at home we should shrug our shoulders and just wait for the barbarians. Perhaps the state media could produce entertainment worthy of our age. The big loser is not the public, who knows what a sham these shows really are, but television itself, which has kept entertainment in the Stone Age by glorifying a «concept» at the expense of good scripts and imaginative stories.

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