To reality, or not to reality: that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageously scripted reality TV...or not.
A while ago, I wrote a Facebook post about a popular prime-time reality TV show that spawned much discussion that spanned from a total agreement with my talking point to why was I wasting my time watching that drivel. Despite the type of feedback I received, I touched a nerve that prompted a reflexive knee-jerk reaction. There was a myriad of comments that followed prompting open dialogue and discussion about a trivial observation.
Why? Why are we so infatuated with watching other people? Reality TV draws us into its web of edited intrigue, deceit, and scripted drama. Purveyors of people, reality shows have become the modern day soap opera. What “Days of Our Lives,” “All My Children,” and “General Hospital” were to our mom’s and grandma’s generation, reality shows simply replaced the actors with everyday people. In turn, this gives the “average Joe or Juliet” a chance at hitting it big, becoming famous in their own right.
Regardless of which reality shows you love or hate to watch, the relatable topics and subject matter launch an internal and external dialogue about morality, life, relationships, love, friendship, faith, fashion, actions, behaviors, right and wrong. You find yourself asking, “How would I handle that situation?” “Would I react differently?” More importantly, it should prompt discussions with parents and their children to help the kids differentiate what is “real life” versus staged entertainment.
In the mid-1990’s when I was single and involved in young adult sports, and social group, a producer from a major network based in NYC came to Atlanta with the purpose of creating a reality show on young adults, and their dating lives in their quest to find true love. The producer approached my group of guy and girlfriends and me; we agreed to meet him at a local restaurant to film our discussion on this topic. Reality shows were a new concept and just emerging into our culture at this time.
As the lights and cameras were set up, the producer pulled me aside and said, “Since it appears that you are the leader, I want you to take the discussion into this direction...feel free to talk about sex, what kind of sex you all enjoy, what appeals to you during a date, and what is appropriate to do and not do sexually when dating. You know, just keep the conversation real.” He and his staff continued the discussion about what they were seeking from us.
In an instant, my jovial, outgoing smile changed to a look of scorn with furled lips and gritted teeth. I immediately got up from the table after filling their ears with a piece of my mind. I walked over to my friends, told them what the director really had in store for us that night and left the restaurant. Some of them stayed to participate in the filming anyway despite the deception of the TV crew.
Really? Talk about sex? That’s a tough topic to talk about even with some of my BFFs, let alone 6 million other people who aren’t on my Christmas card list. I was misled, and it shed a bright light on “real” reality TV. However, the experience reminded me that my sole actions, decisions, and behaviors define who I am...my real-life character.
For many writers including myself, inspiration for descriptive writing comes from watching all kinds of personal interactions...even scripted “reality” TV shows. Sometimes you get vested with the characters and can personally identify with them. Then you find yourself getting sucked into the vortex of faux drama and become emotionally tied to the show. However, for many, it’s merely a form of escapism and mindless entertainment. The key is to know the difference between a real versus a produced fantasy life. For reality shows, what actually gets taped and aired is the edited version of what they want you to see and the storyline that they choose to tell. And, just like with writing, the non-essential, every day, mundane, real-life stuff, actions, and words typically ends up getting deleted and tossed onto the cutting room floor to be swept up and thrown away.
The reality is that it’s not reality. ..SURPRISE!! (insert jazz hands here)
And as Shakespeare once said, “Aye, there’s the rub!”
About Katie Hart Smith
Katie Hart Smith’s column, “From the Heart,” touches the heart, inspires, and entertains. Smith, a published author for over twenty years, believes that words, written or spoken, have power. To learn more, visit www. katiehartsmith.com.