Yesterday I was casually chatting to a friend about Fox’s determination to profit from the recession by making a reality show where the ‘team’ heads into an ailing company and get its employees to vote for which one of them will get the axe. The real-life axe.
Towards the end of the conversation, my friend revealed that he had just been made redundant, and that today is to be his last day at work.
Well, fuck him.
It’s not my problem, is it? Actually, at least it was a bit of drama for me to go back and gossip to the other den-of-geekers about when our chat was over. Until then the day had been a bit drab. Some people just don’t ‘got it’, I guess.
If the above paragraph has raised your pulse in outrage, you’re probably not going to become a regular viewer of Someone’s Gotta Go. In all probability, your ability to empathise, and your sense that you are part of the ‘bigger picture’ as far as the human race is concerned, is quite well-developed. You’re not part of the target demographic.
Now that above paragraph just cost me 60% of the people who were reading this piece, because the maths suggests that to be roughly the percentage of people who watch and enjoy reality shows. And they’ve heard this rant before – loads of times: for them it’s just the bleatings of yet another bleeding-heart, tree-hugging liberal hack who wants to knit jumpers out of organic yoghurt, ban every other word as politically incorrect and take all the fucking fun out of life.
But don’t write me off – I have far better reasons for hating reality TV than my liberal squeamishness. I also hate it because it has sucked the creative life out of the television industry, helped an insane government prepare us psychologically for the ‘surveillance society’, killed untold opportunities for genuine dramatic TV programming (and comedy programming for that matter) and turned the burden of entertaining ourselves back on ourselves. In that last sense, it has taken us back to a time before the invention of the Caxton press.
We often wonder what the hell people did before TV – now we know.
Perhaps I hate reality TV most because its popularity won’t let me forget how disassociative society is, like it did back in the days when we were watching stuff that people (many of whom had a talent for writing and storytelling) had actually concocted to make sense of the world, or even just to divert us.
The years I spent in Italy were an eye-opener in many ways, not least because, mixed in with that country’s many virtues, I was introduced to an unsettling European strand of fatalism that, while not unique to Italy, is uncommonly associated with that country. At its most extreme, this motif of futility and sociopathy is famous as the creed of the mafia, who tenderly kiss their children goodnight but will casually murder anyone else’s in order to feed them.
Looking out my window one day in central Naples in the late 90s, I saw a dishevelled youth on a moped draw up to a well-dressed businessman approaching his expensive car, dismount and walk up to the man. This was clearly some third-rate Camorra business that had to be attended to.
The youth didn’t hate the man (he certainly didn’t know him personally) as he laid his fists into him, and the well-dressed man just stood there taking it. Nothing was stolen. It was business. It was how the world is. And as the young thug remounted his bike with a look of apathy and boredom, I watched the businessman get up and get into his car and drive off, the score settled, whatever it was.
And in that moment, I knew I didn’t ‘get it’, like these two did. And I still don’t, which is why the TV ratings people don’t care what I think.
I ought to understand reality TV better than I do – I like horror films, don’t I? Same principle – if it’s happening to the other guy, it’s not happening to you, and that’s good. Actors, non-actors – who cares?
I think Someone’s Gotta Go will do well. I’m certainly not suggesting its potential viewers are heartless: if it weren’t for how fucking frightening the prospect is of having to feed your kids and keep your family together without a job and in an opportunity-starved market, what kind of entertainment would it be? If it weren’t for our ability to imagine the sick and cavernous feeling of being thrown on the scrapheap (most people I know who have been made redundant due to the recession are my age – early 40s – and older), there’d be no catharsis for us in such fare. There’d be no fun.