‘Big Brother’ vs ‘Bar,’ where supply determines demand

Broadcasting of the second version of «Big Brother» on ANT1, and its new variant, «Bar,» on Mega Channel, began early this month. Judging from the hype, it appears that «Bar» aims to express the joy of life. Not just any life, but the one that begins after sundown, accompanied by the consumption of alcohol, on which the future of each participant in the show will depend. Customers are able to drink as much as they like; those who overdo it will be discreetly removed. Viewers are free to hike up their telephone bills by voting whenever they want. Greece has welcomed reality shows with much fanfare, but in other countries, where the genre has been around for some time, interest is waning (down by 10 percent in Europe, according to the show business magazine Variety, apart from countries such as France, where its popularity still runs high). Enthusiasm for reality shows is directly proportional to people’s decreasing enthusiasm for politics. Around 200,000 French people applied to take part in «Loft Story» (the French version of «Big Brother»), but according to the French daily Liberation, 59 percent of the French population are «not very» or «not at all» interested in the imminent presidential elections. Reality shows have prompted much debate about what is good and bad television, whether these shows should be banned, and why people watch them. Whatever one might think, reality shows are very profitable, if not so much for the participants as for the television channels and production companies. They are both profitable and cheap, because, unlike serials, they require no scriptwriters, actors, studio sets or location filming, not to mention the side benefits. These shows are popular around the world, not because they respond to some universal, deep-seated needs, but because supply determines demand, both in the developed and developing world. The Greek viewing public is now being asked to choose between two plastic products. Their only difference is that while on «Big Brother» the voting is by secret ballot, on «Bar» things are out in the open. «Big Brother’s» participants are cut off from the outside world, but «Bar» will be visited daily by persistent, photogenic night owls who pay for the privilege of drinking in the company of their idols. «Bar» men and women are expected to work, serving drinks, handing out receipts and calculating VAT, in contrast to «Big Brother,» where participants are given food, drink and clothing. Of course on «Bar» it isn’t drinks the contestants will be selling, but themselves, a concept that pervades the business world. Permanent tenure is a thing of the past. Young people looking for work no longer considered themselves either unemployed or even underemployed, but must be convinced that they are in control. The thousands of candidates for the two reality shows are not only attracted by the prospect of a good time, but are hoping to become known, to be noticed. And the shows reflect broader lifestyle changes as well. Gone are the days when Athens’s fashionable bars could be counted on the fingers of both hands. Every neighborhood, every town and even the smallest resort has its own favorite watering hole. Bar culture spread rapidly, particularly during the ’80s, with bourbon and malt, avocado and mushrooms taking the place of the proverbial half-kilo of retsina and kokoretsi in the local taverna. In the process, bars acquired a cosmopolitan aura, while transforming themselves over time into restaurant-bars, cafe-bars, disco-bars and Greek music-bars. Given such trends, Mega’s «Bar» looks like it might have a future, even if only for the short term. Although the ratings for the genre have dropped slightly in other countries, producers here will be struggling to keep it alive with sequels on themes varying from psychological and bodily torture to education, travel, and even war games.

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