Reality’s bite…

Published Us Magazine, The News International. April 22, 2011.


As our race (alleged to be the ‘human’ race) bade farewell to the second millennium and stepped into the 21st century, a number of unpleasant shockers came to our reception: terrorism, global warming, inflation, intolerance, economic disparities, self-righteousness and … reality television! Shamed only by soap operas, the reality shows acted like an epidemic, attacking the idiot box like anything. The concept spread like ink in water; it took the whole television-viewing experience to an altogether new, unprecedented (albeit senseless) level. It is reported that currently, one in every four primetime shows in the US is a reality show. Agreed, the idea was innovative and refreshing, and if executed the right way, could have served as a major break-through in diverse fields: religion, culture, society and ethics. But sense, like most of the other good things, doesn’t sell. Accordingly, the concept was dappled with idiocy, with the focus being laid on the TRPs than content. This week, therefore, Us magazine takes a sarcastic look at this reality phenomenon, and critically reviews its various facets.


It all started…

    In the last quarter of the last century, when a group of dumb-witted producers realized that they had none of their original ideas left to base shows upon, and had already plagiarized all of other people’s ideas. They took refuge in churning out reality television, a phenomenon that could munificently afford them putting their minds to rest. Then dawned the noughties, and the United States of America, keeping up with its sworn traditions of piquing the rest of the world, jumped into the arena with all its sinew. The television ratings held testimony to Americans’ mindlessness: reality shows like ‘American Idol’ and ‘Survivor’ topped the charts. These shows were followed by ‘America’s Next Top Model’, ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Fear Factor’. The rest of the globe hadn’t till then really caught up with this trend, but when the realization hit them that America’s reality shows had outwitted their scripted counterparts, they all chanted in unison, ‘Hey, if they aren’t using their brains, why should we?’. Since then, almost every country of the planet indulged in producing reality television, giving rise to its various genres: talent shows, make-over shows, dating shows, talk shows, documentary-style shows, living-in shows, daring shows, you name it!


The contestants are…

From a wide-range of spectrum, actually; depending on the show’s format. You just need to get a handful of wannabe individuals, forgotten, forlorn celebrities and some real controversial kings and queens (Read: men who hurl out ten abuses in a sentence of two words, and women who are actually allergic to putting some clothes on type). You blend these together and get the perfect formula of alluring the masses to their television screens. In a nutshell, anyone who is helplessly clueless to where his life is leading, has nothing better to do at all and is only very happy to hop around the cameras whole day long to seek some attention, qualifies to being on a reality show. Sophistication is a definite no-no, and talent is secondary. You just have to be awesome at bitching and back-biting. If you’re high on ego and self-respect, you better dump these attributes in a trunk and escort it to some far-off place. Everything is fair in love, war and reality shows. Loudness is the way to soar high. One often gets humiliated and insulted either by fellow in-mates or by the judges – that lousy, melodramatic group of fellows seated across the stage. Sure enough, the judges are the people who could never get the balloons of their career inflated, had no aptitude or talent, and as the bubbles of their vocations burst, they assented to become the judges of the shows as they give them a grand opportunity of spewing their frustrations on the contestants’ faces. However, contrary to what is publicized, the reality-shows do not often make the contestants successful. The winner gets the prize, that is sure, but what happens to him and the rest of the contestants after the show ends is gloomy: they’re soon elapsed. There are a very few instances of the participants of the shows continuing to be big after the show is gone.


In Pakistan

Despite recurrent attempts, this genre of television is neither alive nor kicking. And before you get fooled by the notion that this is so because of our masses’ negation to indulge in something so dumb, let me correct you: You’re wrong. It is solely because of the reason that the people of this country still prefer India’s never-ending, insult-to-intellect type dailies over reality shows. (And don’t mention the women, please! Statistics show that India’s saas-bahu crap is watched by men and women alike.) Besides, producers claim that our social norms and traditions cannot let the reality phenomenon blossom here. (Talking of norms, we are thinking of you, Veena Malik!) Among the reality shows produced in Pakistan, super-model Zainab Qayyum’s local adaptation of the ‘Jerry Springer Show’, ‘Maachis’ is one success story, where the lady shouted and shrieked like anything and when her vocals cords protested on carrying on the performance, her lacrimal glands came to the rescue. Another popular show in the country is the ostentatious, gaudy VJ, Waqar Zaka’s ‘Living on the edge’. Deservedly, it has been blessed with various controversies owing to its immoral content and no definite rules for selection. Other reality shows of Pakistan include the blast from the past (pun intended) Komal Rizvi’s show, which no one watched, no one knew about and no one talked about, truth show ‘Laakhon ka such’, which is a C grade copy of the Indian show ‘Sach Ka Saamna’, talent show ‘The Anchor’ whose judges depicted hormonal imbalances and laughed, insulted and shouted at the same time, and a handful of singing and dancing contests that, again, went the Titanic way. Breaking news: It’s heard that our very own Miss Meera Jee will be soon jumping into the reality arena, with a show in which she’ll try to find a husband. Well, hmm, cool! No comments!


The success story…

Of these shows is due to the fact that these shows provide on TV what we long to see in our daily lives: cat-fights, conflicts, couples ditching each other, people taking digs on one another and so on. They have a high satiatory value; they successfully gratify all our very human, sadistic germs. There’s a reason why the producers of every reality show make it a point to rope in at least one judge who’d rather jump off a cliff than to say a word of encouragement. In many instances, the all good-doers, family-material type contestants have later ruefully confided that the producers themselves favoured the bad guys and the prime reason for their eviction was their harmless nature. Another reason why reality shows are all the rage is because, as everything comes down to money, the case is same here, honey! According to a report I read in a magazine the other day, it costs about a whooping three million dollars to make one episode of an American reality show, while a humble sum of 750,000 US Dollars on the same for a reality show. And most of the money is instantly recovered through the advertisements of products in the show. (Observe the cups, posters and the camera panning on the detergents) Therefore, as it comes out, money almost never sinks without a trace in case of these shows. Instead of wondering whether the concept will click the audience or not, as is done for scripted shows, you can rest assured that you reality show will work. You just have to do some proper home-work (plan a hell lot of controversies, tussles, conflicts, acrimonies etc), and there you are, sprawling on your couch and counting the fresh, juicy currency notes.


Real or Scripted…

Despite their brazen insistence on being glued to the top spots on television-viewer ship ratings, and the insistence of the producers that their shows are real, the reality shows invite various debates as to if they are actually real at all. Many participants of a number of successful reality shows (the evicted ones, of course) have leveled charges of having been scripted against the shows. And there actually are some reality shows that are completely scripted, duping the audiences. Mostly, however, the emotions and reactions of the contestants are real, but the situations are concocted. The makers of the shows themselves devise such fragile situations that the contestants would burst out loud with a bang and take on each other. (Those who burst out with a whimper are of no use to the shows). As pointed out often, the people who religiously follow these shows are themselves in a need of getting a life. And if the shows start depicting normal, smooth proceedings, people would rather their terraces instead of using electricity. It is also recorded that in many cases, the producers were found guilty of fake-dubbing and assembling together movies of different incidents together, thereby creating a sensational clip out of a dreary, dull moment on the editing desk. To answer in six words as to whether reality shows are real or scripted, they are a bit of both!


One thought on “Reality’s bite…

  1. But sense, like most of the other good things, doesn’t sell.
    Hey, if they aren’t using their brains, why should we?’
    I like the contestants paragraph best
    Oh, and unfortunately Big Brother started in the UK

    I agree with what you’ve said. I can’t believe people still watch them, in like the first year or two, it was ok to watch them, they weren’t even as bad as they are now. But it’s just so loser-ish to watch such stuff. They’re rubbish and pathetic and…I’m not good with my words but you’ve already said what I think of them! lol

    Most people are forgotten, the ones that I remembered the most are the good-looking ones that the people fall for – I’m thinking of X-factor really, if you know of that one. But otherwise it doesn’t take them long to be forgotten, unless you’re the kind of person who keeps up with “celebrity news” (I have read that a few times, just for the amusement. However it does make me pray for humanity!)

    Talking about Indian soaps, it saddens me that Pakistanis watch that stuff instead of Pakistani stuff. I mean, I’m not saying that in a patriotic way, but recently I’ve been introduced to a few Pk dramas and I’ve realised how much better they are than Indian ones! I remember when I was younger we did used to watch pk dramas but I hadn’t watched them for ages. I have watched a few Indian dramas recently and I had forgotten what Pk dramas were like (or were they as rubbish in the past?)
    Pakistani dramas seem to have a lot more substance and proper storylines, instead of Indian dramas which have the same formula of the good people, and evil people, exaggerated acting and silly sounds and effects! argh, why do people like such stuff?!

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