[FOUNTAIN]Politics imitates televisionThe most popular television genre today is reality shows. They present the unscripted actions of ordinary people, not celebrities or actors. Survival games, auditions and dating shows are the most common forms of reality television. Sometimes, television cameras capture private moments, such as a physical makeover. Hidden cameras are the oldest type of reality programming, dating back to 1949, when “Candid Camera” pioneered the genre in the United States.
Reality shows are popular in the United States and Europe, as well as in Asia and South America. Every year, more than 30 reality shows in the U.S. hold interviews for particpants. Celebrities such as Donald Trump, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, actor Ashton Kutcher and supermodel Tyra Banks have created reality shows. In Korea, cable channels are leading the reality television boom.
The television program that ignited the trend was “Unsolved Mysteries,” which was first aired in the U.S. in 1987. When screenwriters went on strike, the show was created without a script as a stopgap measure, and it turned out to be a hit. Since that show’s success, producers have focused on the economic benefits of reality television, which costs less, needs no professional actors or script, and has a format that can be exported. In this century, reality programming has taken off worldwide. CBS’s “Survivor,” a game show on a remote island, has become a worldwide television brand. “Big Brother,” where the participants are watched by 28 cameras 24 hours a day, has been exported to 15 nations.
Although reality programming is popular, these shows have been criticized for their invasion of privacy, infringement of human rights, voyeurism, vulgarity and sensationalism. Some also say the shows encourage cynicism and blur the difference between reality and illusion. Hanyang University professor Lee Jong-su wrote, “The biggest problem is that reality itself becomes dependent on cameras, and personal and social lives take on the format of television shows.”
The excessive competition and the winner-take-all structure of reality shows are also problematic. Reality programming is about survival and elimination. A participant is removed in each episode, and your friend today becomes your enemy tomorrow. Even if the competition is not explicit, the underlying premise is the same. Competition is a virtue, and the highest virtue is victory. Reality television resembles the paradigm of infinite competition in neo-conservatism, also born in the United States. It is revealing that the rise of reality television to be a global genre coincides with the global expansion of neo-conservatism.
The writer is a culture and sports desk writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yang Sung-hee