I am not a great watcher of television - here it would be pretty pointless as I would understand very little. Even when I was living in the UK, however, I did not watch very much. One thing that I just did not get, and still do not, is the whole reality show phenomenon. I was puzzled that people whom I admired greatly would cut short what they were doing so that they could get home in time to watch the latest episode of Big Brother. I therefore decided to see what they liked so much about it and watched an episode. Well, to be more accurate, watched half an episode. After that, I turned it off. I then returned, periodically, to see whether it grew on me. Each viewing left me feeling more and more certain that there was something deeply wrong about the whole concept.
I have never liked blood sports. Boxing actively repels me but at least, in that, there is an honest encounter between two individuals who have chosen to be there and have undergone long training in order to prepare themselves for it. They know what the game is and know the risks they take. The encounter, moreover, is for a limited period in a highly controlled and formalised environment after which they can return to their homes and families.
There is no blood in Big Brother - nor in the rash of similar shows that followed in in its wake. What goes on there is potentially far more damaging to the participants than being knocked about in a ring. What I saw in my periodic dips into it were groups of people being actively encouraged to compete in a knockout competition for the votes of the viewing public. What is more, as the programme moved from series to series, the individuals involved seemed to become ever more unpleasant. From what i saw, I would have paid good money to avoid spending any time with any of them.
Once, many years ago, I lived in a house with a dozen or so others. It was, we told ourselves in our oh-so-naive way, a commune. We had got together as a result of an advertisement placed in the underground press by a psychologist from the Esalen Institute in California - who, if I remember rightly, advanced us some money to get started. Be that as it may, we were a rather ill-assorted bunch that he had got together. So we set up the houses and moved in. For a while, it was great. Fuelled by liberal amounts of hashish, acid and amphetamine, we started to party. Visitors would come - for our address had appeared in some centre of which we knew nothing as a working commune who would welcome such visitors. It was all very strange, but at times amusing. We took pleasure in winding such visitors up.
Anyway, eventually, things got difficult - the party came to an end - and heroin replaced hashish for many of us. The whole thing folded and most went their separate ways.
What none of us knew, and I cannot remember now how I found this out, was that one of us had been making regular reports back to the psychologist who had introduced us to each other. We were, it appeared, an experiment. And it is one that I find ethically dubious, to say the least.
But at least we were not televised. At least our dysfunctions and interactions did not become public property - to be debated and dissected ad nauseam in the tabloid press. We may perhaps have appeared, anonymised, in some learned journal but that is far from the mass prurience encouraged by reality TV.
For prurience is what it is. And what is more is that it is manipulated prurience. For what it is not is "reality". First of all, it is highly edited - 24 hours in several people's lives edited down to 30 minutes. No way can that be objective - the tv company is, after all, looking for "good television". This imperative for good television must also determine the behaviour of the contestants, who are all competing for public favour. Thus, in no way can it be anything other than an artefact. Its very concept is a fraud.
I know that the contestants are volunteers and that they compete for the chance to be exhibited in these latter day freak shows. They have volunteered to have their characters examined and dissected for the delight of strangers upon whose votes they depend for the opportunity to display themselves more in a perverse sort of psychological gladiatorial contest in which there will only be one left standing at the end.
One of the things that most disturbs me is that some of those whom I know watch such programmes describe themselves as being opposed to pornography - describing it as exploitative, demeaning to the humanity of those involved - reducing them to nothing more than objects to be gazed at. It also coarsens and demeans, they say, the societies that tolerate it. All these charges can be levelled, and to a far greater degree, at Reality TV.