Out of Touch with Reality

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An increasingly frustrated Pat Stack bemoans the new TV circuses.

I don't know about your summer plans, but mine centre around avoiding sun, sea, foreign climates, the countryside or beautiful scenery. Instead I am going to get a TV guide and watch as much reality TV as possible.

Looking back over the last few months, we have had people surviving on desert islands, peopled chained to each other in a sexually charged atmosphere, people fuming at airports, people bored on cruise liners, people touching trucks till they fall asleep, people living in Paddington, people being Edwardians, Victorians, prisoners, prison guards and soldiers, real and pretend.

On top of all that of course we have 'Big Brother', where you can watch people sleeping for hours on end, or where a whole segment was devoted to watching people pack and unpack.

Volunteers, wannabes and the downright sad enter into these things, with no entertainment skills. Any halfwit with a camcorder can make them, and as long as some arbiter is on hand to oversee that 'the rules aren't broken' you need no skilled or talented people to be involved at all.

Eurovision song contests suddenly seem highly polished and professional events when compared to this stuff. Yet we will see more and more of them. As the talent and money that are poured into advertising grow, so there seems to be an inverse ratio of both invested in programme making.

Looking back over the summer, it is hard not to remember the incredible Nike ad which gathered together on a ship, at huge expense, some of the most gifted footballers in the world, set up an amazing futuristic game, and backed it with a soundtrack that put Elvis back on top of the charts. Anyone could see that this was a highly thought out and lavishly produced piece of television, probably costing the equivalent of the GNP of Costa Rica, and all done to sell sweatshop footwear.

Right after the ad finished, though, we'd be back to halfwits packing and unpacking in the 'Big Brother' household. I don't know about you, but I have never felt the urge to watch anyone pack or unpack, and have never rushed into a friend's bedroom shouting, 'Oh goody, you're going on holiday--can I watch you pack?'

Alienation has surely reached new heights when this can be sold as entertainment. For reality TV is of course nothing of the sort--everything about it is artificial. It is art imitating life imitating art.

I remember watching an episode of 'The Simpsons' where Homer was trapped outside the World Trade Centre, having to stand by his car waiting for the wheel clamper to come and remove his clamp. He had to stay there between 9am and 5.30pm. His antics as he tried to survive this ordeal were hilarious.

Now, however, there is a reality TV show where contestants have to stand touching a truck, and the one that survives the longest without falling asleep is the winner. How desperate or sad must you have to be to take part in this, and how much more desperate or sad must you be to watch it?

Nevertheless, because it is cheap it is paving the way for more and for worse. For if you can entice people who are desperate for fame, how much easier must it be to entice people who are truly desperate?

I am told by a friend who knows about these things that in the US there is a production company that has set up, for your delight and delectation, 'bum fights'--that is, they pay homeless derelicts to fight each other. Fists, broken bottles, blades, it doesn't matter--they're only bums. I have no doubt if they thought they could get away with it some distribution company would buy the rights for it in this country.

So you do away with actors, directors, skilled technicians, and you end up paying the homeless and the hopeless to maim each other. Who needs cocks, bears or badgers?

Indeed, why stop there? Why not 'Cancer Ward'--the show where you vote which terminally ill person should die first? Or 'Feed the Famished'--instead of just a sea of starving African children, place ten in a room and vote for the one you think should be fed? Or 'Hijack', where you could watch ten planes full of people and vote which three should be flown into a building--indeed, you could vote for the building?

One of Tony Blair's pet projects, one taken up with huge enthusiasm by Jack Straw, was a kids' curfew. Have 'em back in the home, keep 'em out of trouble. Personally I suspect they are much safer 'roaming the streets' then sat at home watching this stuff. I do not believe the drug has been invented that is as harmful to the brain as reality TV.

The tabloids, however, love it, for it is tabloid television--everything reduced to the meaningless and moronic. Apparently after 11 September, one of the biggest events of modern history, various 'big brother' shows around the world discussed whether they should tell their contestants or not. Most decided not to. Brian, the last British winner, thought this dead right, and why not? For the thing that strikes you after ten minutes of 'Big Brother' is that no one is interested in anything beyond the minutiae of their own lives.

David Byrne of Talking Heads once summed up small minded small town suburbia with the wonderful lines:

'We don't want justice

We don't want freedom

We just want someone to love.'

Change 'love' to 'watch', and you have the perfect reality TV contestant. I've changed my mind--where's that bucket and spade?