Sunday, August 1, 2010

Reality Tv Has Made Me Question Reality And I Don't Like It

I have a lot of opinions about reality TV. I tend to avoid it as a general rule, not because I don't like it, but because I believe that allowing producers to profit from more cheaply produced reality shows could have dramatic implications for Australia's creative industries. Simply put, if the bosses in an underfunded industry realise that people will volunteer to be exploited on camera for free (or the mere chance of a prize) and that they don't have to go through the added expense of hiring writers, actors etc, they won't hire those people. Which, if it goes on for long enough, means no more jobs for writers and actors in Australian television, and no more original content for viewers of Australian television. Bad.

But recently I've noticed another side effect of those few, unavoidable viewings of shows like Australian Idol, Search for a Supermodel and all those other talent contest type things. In years past when I looked in the mirror and decided that I looked at least passable enough to go the pub, I believed it. When someone told me I had given a good performance, I believed them. But at some point I noticed that  hey... those hideous creatures who audition for the modelling shows think they look good too...

At first, I shrugged off the idea. Those girls were deluded enough to slather on the facepaint and waltz right on to the set of a modelling show. Those bitches be trippin' right down the catwalk of crazy. I'm not going to go out and do anything like that, I don't need to worry myself with this kind of insecurity.

But then I noticed (it was on in the background, yeah?) just how many people on the reality shows live in a reality completely removed from anyone else's. Even the ones who don't seem overtly crazy (but not overtly talented either) have completely inflated ideas of their own abilities.

And then, through the wonders of television, you meet their family and it all makes sense.

If you've ever watched the earlier auditions on any of the 'Idol' shows, which you have because of course you have, you might have noticed that even the most tuneless, tone-deaf, singing suckhole seems to have at least four or five people around them to tell them that they truly are an amazing singer, that they're going to take the world by storm. These people are liars.

Don't get me wrong, they are well-intentioned liars. They've been brought up learning that a white lie is just dandy when it boosts someone's self-esteem, that self-esteem is always to be right at it's highest possible point, and that encouragement is something you are obliged to give someone. Plus, they like seeing the people they care about feel good about themselves. That's understandable. They think they're doing their friend/child/student the biggest of favours in sending them out into the world with confidence.

Of course it all becomes clear when the aspiring performer steps, alone, into the judges' arena and their whole world comes crashing down around them. They now have the word of industry experts that they can't sing to save their life, and the video footage (often screened repeatedly) to prove it. Not only do they have to deal with the fact that they are hopeless in the one area they've always been led to believe they are uniquely talented in, but they also have to deal with the knowledge that the people they care most about in the world lied to them. And that those lies eventually led to them being humiliated on national TV. You can see why so many of them prefer to cling to their delusions.

People seem to have this idea that 'encouragement' equals blind praise. In my amateur theatre days,  nothing annoyed me more than the way praise and compliments were little more than social commodities. One person would get up to demonstrate their performance and the rest would clap and cheer, tell them they were brilliant, with the promise that if they replied enthusiastically enough, they too would receive the same treatment. Everybody likes to be told they're brilliant, none more so than amateur actors. The problem with this system presented itself if you happened to be the type of person who actually wants constructive criticism. How can you improve your performance if no-one will even tell you it wasn't your best yet? Believing that you have nothing to improve means that you don't work on it and, in extreme cases, leads to the kind of delusion you see every season of any given reality show.

So now I'm in a complicated position where I can no longer truly believe that a compliment is genuine. Did that person really like my singing, or do they just want a compliment in return? Do I really look nice, or is that person just telling me what they think I want to hear? Does it really require the risk of national humiliation (or at least smaller scale humiliation) to know if you really are good at something?

Welcome to the world of limitless insecurities, friends. I'm sure you will make yourself at home.

- Smackie Onassis, who assures you she is not fishing for compliments.

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