reality shows

Reality, Without Quotes

Matt, Lake Champlain, August 7, 2011

Excerpt from The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman:

Just watch any husband arguing with his wife about something insignificant; listen to what they say and watch how their residual emotions manifest when the fight is over. It's so formulaic and unsurprising that you woudn't dare re-create it in a movie. All the critics would mock it. They'd all say the screenwriter was a hack who didn't even try. This is why movies have less value than we like to pretend --  movies can't show reality, because honest depictions of reality offend intelligent people. 

The reality I got to see was not "movie reality." The reality I saw was just reality, without quotes. You want to know what I really learned? I learned that most people don't consider time alone as part of their life. Being alone is just a stretch of isolation they want to escape from. I saw a lot of wine-drinking, a lot of compulsive drug use, a lot of sleeping with the television on. It was less festive than I anticipated. My view had always been that I was my most alive when I was totally alone, because that was the only time I could live without fear of how my actions were being scrutinized and interpreted. What I came to realize is that people need their actions to be scrutinized and interpreted in order to feel like what they're doing matters. Singular, solitary moments are like television pilots that never get aired. They don't count. 

Bearing Witness

"Bearing Witness is a trilogy concerned with how we, as a culture, watch ourselves, especially in moments of great emotional significance. With footage culled from mainstream media and television, the single-channel videos (The Eternal Quarter Inch, Somewhere only we know, The Burning Blue) distill moments of sincerity from perhaps insincere sources (televangelists, reality show contestants, screensavers, B-movies). The three single-channel videos each witness interstitial moments of imminence to challenge spectatorship in American televisual culture, continually shifting the role of the viewer between voyeur and participant."

~ Jesse McLean

"Somewhere Only We Know provides a skillfully assembled montage of contestants' faces at the instant when they have been eliminated from the show." ~ The Wexner Center for the Arts

Somewhere only we know from Jesse McLean on Vimeo.


From "Emotional Buildup," by Jake Halpern, New York Times Real Estate Magazine (10.05.08):

In theory, the Akerses didn’t know we were coming. They were told only that they were one of five families from the Cincinnati area who had been chosen as finalists. This, in itself, was a coup. Endemol USA, the production company that makes the show, receives as many as 1,000 applications a week either from or about families who have suffered a tragedy or hardship and are seeking a new home.

Bobby Fletcher photographed by Andreanna Seymore for The New York Times.

...The only spectators allowed on this day were neighbors, a handful of local volunteers and the Akerses’ extended family. I chatted with Judy ‘‘Bobby’’ Fletcher, the 65-year-old grandmother of the Akers children. She told me she had been here since before dawn, on her knees in a neighbor’s driveway, repeating a simple prayer: ‘‘Please allow ABC to be led to this family.’’ For more than two years, the congregants at Fletcher’s church had maintained a ‘‘prayer chain’’ in which they took turns praying — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — for the executives at ABC to select the Akerses. Several local churches had similar prayer appeals.

Eventually the bus carrying Pennington rounded the corner. The crowd let out a collective gasp, several volunteers began to sob and virtually everyone took out a camera-equipped cellphone to document the moment. I glanced over at Fletcher, who was standing next to me, looking faint. ‘‘I saw the bus, heard the screams, and I went into an out-of-body experience,’’ she later told me. ‘‘I was watching it, but I wasn’t a part of it.’’

They Don't Make Great Reality Shows

"I know so many chefs who are thoughtful and creative and like balance in their lives, but they don’t make great reality shows...I get home most workdays around 10:30 p.m. and go to bed instantly. I’ve always worked nights. I am fourth-generation restaurant people. When I get home, I can walk into the house and be in bed asleep within seven minutes...I do ballroom dancing every week. I love it. Our restaurant is right across from a dance studio, and they asked me to do a dance contest. I practiced real hard and won, and I’ve danced ever since."

-- Chef Rick Bayless, "Midwest Mex," Domains interview by Edward Lewine (New York Times Sunday Magazine, 2/17/08)

Hate Really Sells

Excerpts from Rise of the Takedown by Alex Williams, New York Times (4/8/07):

“It’s a new generation, and there are a lot of people who say they have more of a feeling of entitlement,” said Michael Addis, director of the new film, Heckler. He added, “They feel like they should be getting the attention.” Indeed, Asher Patrick, a temp worker whose hectoring of the comedian Jamie Kennedy at a Nashville comedy club last year earned him a brief appearance in the movie, said in a telephone interview last week that he saw his role as “more of a critic” than a hooligan.

But what is driving all this vitriol? One factor, at least where the Internet is concerned, said Mr. Addis, is that “sex sells, but hate really sells,” and helps bloggers draw traffic. Mr. Kennedy believes that Internet meanness, which flourishes on media gadfly blogs and pop culture Web sites like and, and independent movie review sites like and, has bled over into public discourse, a point echoed by P. M. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who founded the school’s long-running Civility Initiative.

The psychological term, Dr. Forni said, is the “disinhibition effect,” where people express themselves more openly or bluntly online than they would in person. The old filters — namely, good manners — atrophy offline, and the result is a cultural narcissism: people think that only their feelings and opinions matter.

The comedian Kathy Griffin said in a later interview that heckling has thrived as “the lines have become blurred” between legitimate performers and mass-produced pseudo-celebrities, like those manufactured by reality television and YouTube home videos. If everyone’s a star, no one is — so forget the traditional deference that fans once accorded the famous.

“Let’s face it, it’s their moment in the sun,” she said of taunters. “The guys who heckled Michael Richards did 20 interviews.”