What is it with reality TV shows that make them so appealing? Every few months a TV channel comes up with a novel way to enable attention-deprived, fame-seeking individuals to make an ass of themselves on national television. This is invariably met with the boringly predictable hype and discussions on the channels themselves, the tabloids, and even the news channels (!?) that are covering them now. “Breaking News: So and so have been eliminated! What will happen next? Is there a final twist in the tale?” Primetime listings? Endless reruns? Offshoot shows, that are just as popular, based on the reality shows? SEASONS of the same drivel?

What is happening?

Inferring from the dynamics of demand and supply, the only reason why reality TV shows are gaining an ever-increasing share of airtime is because there is plenty of demand for it. By the looks of it, this is not a flash-in-the-pan, but more like a trend that’s here to stay, and grow. If what’s happening in the west is anything to go by (and in my opinion it is, considering most of the shows in India are a desi clone of the original version aired in the west), then the situation can only get worse.  In the west, they have entire sections of online versions of newspapers dedicated to particular shows. There are people so desperate to get on TV that they are willing to risk humiliation with publicity stunts (http://edition.cnn.com/2009/US/10/24/balloon.boy.investigation/index.html).

I mean, the whole thing is rigged. How much do you have to watch to figure that out? Just the other day, I saw an episode where the “contestant” began abusing someone off-screen, possibly the scriptwriter, towards the end of the show.  A scriptwriter on a reality show!? Ironical as it may be, I could hear the contestant argue that he had conducted himself as was required of him, which resulted in him on the “losing” side of things. To add insult to injury, the host had poked fun at his appearance, at which point the muppet snapped out of his delusion of riding out into the celluloid sunset, creating just the kind of drama the producers had been hoping for. I was initially surprised as to why the channel aired his cameo, where for once he had deviated from the script that was written for him. Then I realized that this was probably because –

  1. The channel in question realized that if they didn’t show it themselves, there would surely be another entertainment channel/tabloid/news channel (why not?) who would interview the outraged contestant (still unsatisfied with his/her share of the limelight), bringing the “incident” to light and getting a free ride from the resulting publicity
  2. The producers knew that their target audience would lap it up and come back for more anyway (No Way! – are you sure?)

So on one hand, we have the unscrupulous producers and the TV channels cranking out episodes as fast as they can shoot it, and on the other, we have the insatiable and misguided section of the public who can’t get enough of it. What do you make of something like that? Are these reality shows educative, or informational in any way? Does it come under the ambit of even the most distorted definition of art? Is degrading oneself and others on-screen a sport? Can morality be shed like clothes, both in front of, and behind the camera? Is that kind of fame worth it? Will these shows give me a perspective on life that I never had before?

In the end, I must admit it did. I believe the creators tap into that part of the human psyche, yours and mine, which yearns to create more out of our own existence – the cornerstone of human progress.  Except that, for those who watch it, for those adore it, for those who’d give an arm and a leg to be a part of it, these TV shows act like a drug whereby they can fill in the blanks of their own drab and mundane existence. An illusion of fame and glory in its most perverted, yet just as appealing form – that which is born out one’s own degradation. What makes it so powerful is that they can see themselves taking the place of those on the screen, ordinary individuals, not (yet) stars, just like themselves. I believe that the creators of these shows have capitalized on a form of socially accepted pseudo-voyeurism.

Forget the present, think of the future of someone who has been brought up with this kind of fare that is served up by the media. Do you believe that someone who has grown up adoring, discussing, and dreaming of being a part of this disreputable form of entertainment, this bewitching mirage of fame, can be of any significant worth to those around him? To his family? To society in general? Maybe you think that I am putting an overly dramatic spin on the whole thing, but can you say with absolute certainty that there is not a single student/eligible bachelor/housewife/aspiring musician/dancer/model/actor – hell, it could be one of you, as you are reading this, who is dreaming of making it big on this fast-track to so-called stardom? 15 minutes of fame, it’s a fix that you cannot have but once, but the craving will last much, much longer.

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