The Kansas City Star has put together an excellent discussion about reality television, featuring commentary from four people who make unscripted television. The whole thing is worth your time, because it provides some great arguments and balanced commentary, but the highlight has to be Ken Burns’s angry rant (via NY Mag):
The notion that this is reality is beyond the pale. What it does is just become a vehicle for the same shallow consumerist mentality that is driving our country into the dirt.
There is an aspect of voyeurism that is interesting, but what we’ve done — and it’s the definition of decadence — each generation of reality shows has to up the ante. So now we’re watching the Kardashians get bikini waxes with the appropriately fuzzed-out areas. What does this say to our children when we’re falling behind in math and science?
Dude. Burns. Don’t make me defend reality television. Our country was falling behind in math and science long before reality TV happened. Furthermore, I’d argue that reality TV hasn’t upped the ante: “Bridalplasty” notwithstanding, nothing on today’s reality slate is as despicable as “Temptation Island” and “Joe Millionaire,” and those last aired some seven years ago.
Now, I’m not looking for everything on television to be homework. God forbid. In fact I’ve tried to take what has traditionally been homework, history, and make it entertaining.
Nope, that one’s too easy. Next passage.
No documentary’s objective. To pervert Jean-Luc Godard’s axiom,
Oh God, he’s quoting Jean-Luc Godard.
it’s not only truth 24 times a second it’s lying 24 times a second. But having said that, what are we in the service of in these shows? Are we wanting to illuminate the plight of migrant workers in California, as “Harvest of Shame” did? Or do you wish to know the bust size of Khloe Kardashian?
How about “neither”?
This is a world where we’re involved in two wars. the greatest recession since the Great Depression and a country polarized by race, by geography, by politics….and yet, this is what animates our lives. And things are much more serious.
God, that’s ALWAYS the lamest argument. Don’t forget the starving children in Africa, Ken.
Listen, I hate probably 95% or more of reality shows, sight unseen. I find them bland, overproduced, lacking in any real drama, and — yes — incredibly shallow and narcissistic. But the fact of the matter is that they can be good television. They can give genuinely talented people a chance to succeed (“Top Chef,” “Project Runway,” and — though it pains me to admit it — even “American Idol”). The shallow lives of the “Jersey Shore” cast are oddly sincere and compelling. And “Dating in the Dark” either shines an intriguing light on how important physical attraction is to people, or it’s so well produced that it makes me think it does.
Nothing on television is black and white, except for Burns’s boring-ass documentaries.