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Putting the reality back into reality TV

November 25th, 2010 · 4 Comments · music, tv

I have a confession to make. In fact I have several. And when you have read them, you may find me so strange as to cross the street to avoid me next time you see me coming towards you.

I don’t watch “X-Factor“. I don’t watch “Strictly Come Dancing“. And I don’t watch “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.”

It gets worse.

I don’t watch “Eastenders“. I don’t watch “Coronation Street“. And I don’t watch “Emmerdale”, Hollyoaks”, Neighbours”, “Home and Away”….. basically I don’t watch any soap operas.

Why?

I decided many years ago that life’s free time was in too short supply to spend it watching endless fictional lives on the TV. so I decided to allow myself one soap: I chose “Brookside“. (No, really, I did.)

When they killed that off, I decided I could do even better and made my soap a radio show: “The Archers“. (Ah yes, The Archers, worth a whole post in its own right sometime soon!) By having a radio “soap”, I could get stuff done and still indulge the side of me that was happy to escape into a world of tractors, scrumpy cider and an absurd lack of any form of swearing. And to this day, I still try to catch it, usually by putting the kids in the bath for its duration whilst trying to keep one ear on it as I sit with them. Not an entirely successful strategy I must admit.

But why not watch the Saturday night talent shows or the C-list celebs eating bugs in the bush?

Well, time again comes into it. I’ll admit to following the early series of “Pop Idol”, “Big Brother” and even to some degree “I’m a Celebrity…”. It’s not so much that I’m not impressed by these shows it’s more that I’m unimpressed with the idolisation of celebrity that some of them seem to stand for.

Take “X-Factor”. Damon Albarn recently described it as “The karaoke coliseum”, a description that so resonated with me it made me laugh. You see, I grew up in the time of punk rock, a rebellion against an establishment, but more specifically a music industry, that was happy to keep churning out the same inoffensive, unimaginitive sort of music to a public who were prepared to buy what was put in front of them.

Punk rock changed all that. From punk sprang an “I can do” attitude that saw kids like me pick up a guitar and start writing songs. There was an explosion of diverse artists. You turned on “Top Of The Pops” on Thursday evening and you’d see artists with absolutely nothing in common other than the fact that they were popular with a segment of the record buying public. And it was marvelous.

The ever more plentiful ways to connect with music and artists eventually saw “Top Of The Pops” come off the air. Its time had passed. But the variety it offered is sadly missing in its closest equivalents on mainstream TV today. Whereas we used to have artists coming out of their bedrooms, often unmanaged, often desperate to record their own material, now we see them exit their bedrooms with little more than a desire to be famous, to enter the pop factory run by Simon Cowell which ensures they are never too offensive, never too independent, attractive to the largest slice of the public and lucrative for his company.

And it’s not like many of them aren’t talented. Clearly some go on to make good careers. But it’s the fact that so many are discarded and, worse still, that so many who don’t have the “right” look or the “right” voice never get a look-in from the start. Could you have imagined Morrissey, Neil Hannon (who is The Divine Comedy) or Jarvis Cocker (formerly of Pulp) getting on the X-Factor? I thought not.

Perhaps it was always thus. Perhaps my comparison of X-Factor is inaccurate and rather than replacing TOTP it is simply replacing the dreadful Saturday night shows of my own youth like The Black and White Minstrel show.In comparison to that, X-Factor is wonderful!

But lest you think I consider all reality TV bad, let me make my final confessions. On a weekday evening, if Hayley and I manage to get the kids to bed early enough to have time to relax in front of the TV, you might just find us watching “The Deadliest Catch” or “Ice Road Truckers“.

These are shows that reveal a reality we wouldn’t normally see. Hardworking men putting in arduously long shifts doing demanding jobs in grueling conditions. A far cry from the “I just want to be famous” brigade, these men demonstrate values of determination, industry and outright bravery that surely anyone should respect.

So if you find me letting Oliver stay up late one Saturday evening to watch reality TV, don’t be surprised if it involves a force 9 gale in the Bering Sea and lobster pots nearly decapitating men in oilskins. Great stuff!

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Dan

    I don't think it's replacing top of the pops. To be honest I don't think it has much to do with music at all.

    It's replacing New Faces. Or bear baiting. Or possibly a mixture of the two.

  • Jessi

    I'm very late to the party and I had to chime in: I don't watch any of those shows either. In part, of course, because I've heard of Eastenders and X-Factor and that's it. (And I've only heard of X-Factor because Graham Norton made fun of it.) But in part because I agree with you about reality tv. For the record, I believe that fiction is one of the greatest art forms in existence and should be celebrated and enjoyed and wallowed in no matter the form.

    The music thing irks me, though. I agree with everything you've said. The public, despite having better ways of distribution to a large and diverse population than ever before, seems content to celebrate mediocre drivel. Also, every time someone mentions Pulp, I have to go wallow in my misery and listen to Different Class three or four times through. So, thanks.

    Also, sorry for the weird rambling.
    My recent post I am Completely Thankful – Volume 1

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