The Real

Posted in TV
By Mansoor Iqbal on 1 Oct 2010

Despite coming to be the de rigueur idiom for non-fictional television, ‘reality’ TV has never seemed to truly live up to its name. It seems to swing between the airbrushed monstrosities and ‘personalities’ epitomised by Big Brother (descendents of MTV’s Real World), and glorified game shows that challenge people to achieve ‘meaningful’ goals within some arbitrary time limit. In fact reality TV has probably influenced reality more than it has reflected it, combining with the internet to make an entire world of people who actually say ‘should of’ deliberately think that it’s great if ‘they always speak their mind’. What a noble and fascinating goal it was to have television look into the real lives of real people, thus following literature and cinema and music before it, all of which have seriously concerned themselves with depicting life as it is. Certain practitioners of all of these media have even considered this to be the highest purpose of their art. So how could television have failed when it alone could present a literal depiction of reality, without any mediation bar editing and the unreality caused by the filming process itself? Soap operas are consistently the most viewed things on television, so it’s odd that we can’t take our reality straight – or at the very least those who control such things believe we are incapable. Perhaps we are. I’ve been to the real world (as much as someone who has enjoyed my level of privilege can) and I have my doubts about whether I need to see more of it.

But anyway, Seven Days (C4) seems to be an attempt at a purer form of reality show, focussing as it does on real people supposedly just doing their thing. There is a twist though, stemming from the unreality of the filming process mentioned above. One of the key aspects of this is the inescapable fact that the presence of a visible camera precludes the unadulterated, shall we say, natural, performance that would’ve occurred were the camera absent (or at least invisible). Anyone who has ever seen from the other side of the camera is aware of the judgement that will be passed on their actions, and, if possessed of a sense of pride and/or shame, will alter their performance accordingly. The twist in this situation is that they won’t just be speculating on this judgement, but through a dedicated website will have access to the opinions of those who have seen them. It’s actually a clever idea, playing as it does with possibility of captured reality. There is one problem though: the medium of the feedback. The internet is a land dominated by idiots (its own children, fathered by reality television), who delusionally believe their opinions are important (rich and hypocritical coming from an online reviewer I know). Two forms of online feedback rule the internet: the ‘you’re so inspirational, stay strong’ American style of positive crap (I didn’t see one single example of a person who knew the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ on the feedback site though), and of course the classic bigoted expletive ridden anonymous rant. Thus most of this feedback will (and has by the look of things) come from people who need the shut the feck up. Something on the programme itself also made me question the very nature of such feedback. The second episode actually saw it delivered in real life, when someone having breakfast in the same place as two of the featured people turned to them and made a thinly veiled criticism of their lifestyle. Now, I wasn’t overly impressed by these two either, but seeing someone passing judgement, stripped of the security blanket of the internet, just didn’t seem right. The idea may be clever, but it is cruel (and perhaps wasted on the undeserving) in the internet/reality show age, when people who would’ve once died of constipation blindly following social convention and keeping their crap inside now feel almost obliged to sick up a turd.

It seems that I’ve sicked up a bit of a turd here, and got a bit lost. I must admit I have no idea how to feel about Seven Days, and that’s probably a good thing. It’s undeniably thought provoking at the very least, and at best could form the basis for many a heated debate – both about the nature of the beast itself and issues raised by the people in it. Ah, the people in it, by whom a reality show of this nature will live or die. Well, it’s based in Notting Hill, with a set of distantly connected characters. Of course, this being Notting Hill, we have the relatively deprived (not destitute, but I don’t think poor would be going too far) and that special category of the over-moneyed upper upper (yes I meant to put it twice) middle classes that one finds in the home counties and certain areas of London. Generally, those in the former category are much more likeable (the feedback seems to suggest this is the popular viewpoint) but the less likeable characters are strangely addictive. The fact that I’ve picked favourites at all means that 4 have won here, and indeed I defy anyone to watch this and not start to do this (thus the moral high ground offered by the opinion that one should not judge is unattainable). Of course this extreme mix contributes to this, as for most people this means not judging people who are like them. This is another concession to unreality essentially, but I must make a grudging confession here: Seven Days is actually pretty damn compelling viewing, and the mix helps. Against my better judgement it might be something I come back to. There are many issues, but as TV it is irresistable. When Big Brother started the word ‘experiment’ was thrown about a lot. I think it is far more relevant here, although this is more a paring down than a revolution. Maybe reality has a future after all…

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