The highly imaginative season of 100 Ideas continues at the South Bank in London.
Tonight was a panel debate entitled: Reality TV – The New Reality?
Interesting panel, although incredibly biased in favour of reality television: George Galloway and Jade Goody, Tim Hincks from Endamol the production company behind Big Brother and Layla Smith from ITV’s “alternative programming.”
This was one of the problems – what the evening really needed were some forceful characters arguing strongly against reality TV, what you had instead was the very nice but slightly ineffectual Rev Richard Moy, though flanked as he was in between Jade and George maybe it’s not surprising that he was the quiet one. He did make a good point though when someone pointed out that he was the only one not in favour of the Big Brother type of Reality TV, he simply answered that he was the only one not to have personally made money out of reality television.
There were some good discussions up-front: The question of agreeing the definition of reality TV, if it is content that is unscripted, “characters in search of a story”, then does that includes real life documentaries, and actually should we say that reality TV started in the 1970s with Paul Watson’s controversial documentary of working class life, The Family?
The critical role that digital technology plays in the production of something like Big Brother was not something that I had thought about before, but it makes total sense. The way in which production teams can take 24 hours worth of cotent into an hours worth of programming literally overnight is something that 10 years ago I am not sure if it could simply have been done?
Though interesting to hear about Jade and George's experience of life post Big Brother and the fact that their experiences with ordinary people were markedly different from the way that they were portrayed in the mainstream media, it was actually not that unexpected or illuminating. It was also fairly predictable that ITV and Endamol would keep coming back to the fact that in their opinion Reality TV is the ultimate form of democratic television and anyone who thinks that Big Brother is lowest common denominator television is "under-estimating the British people." I wish Matthew Wright ,who was chairing, asked tougher more probing questions. They needed a proper chair, a Paxman type who really would have got the gory heart of the subject.
The evening became more interesting when it moved away from the panel and to the floor as tougher questions were being asked: is Big Brother simply the modern day equivalent of the Victorian freak show? (to which Jade took enormous offence); Does Big Brother normalise freaks and encourage children to believe that orange-tanned women with enormous fake plastic tits are the route to success in life? Why is it that Tim is happy to produce and encourage people to participate in his reality shows, but he would be really upset if either of his daughters became reality TV stars? These were actually the questions that the panel could not really bring themselves to answer properly.
Of course it's all entertainment the TV guys argued but "you can't predict it, you can only produce it" but doesn't that defeat the purpose of "reality" TV? If Big Brother is an artificial construct, filled with people specifically chosen to create the most sparks possible, then content is edited and produced by a team behind the scenes, is there actually anything "real" left?
Ben at Noisy Decent Graphics was behind the beautiful website and blog. There was so much discussion that was cut off due to timing issues that I hope that some people went to the blog to comment and continue the debate. I did.
Funny, as we left the Purcell Room a gang of 4 fat paparazzi swarmed around cameras at the ready hoping that we were famous. Happily we were of no interest to them whatsoever and we scooted back to South London to a dinner of red wine and fat burgers.