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Surreality TV

by Neena Louise

Reality television is here to stay, with all its delightfully voyeuristic guilty pleasures. However, watching the latest offerings, I can't help but wonder just how "real" reality television is.

Everyone knows by now that many of these shows aren't terribly "real", given that producers manipulate people and events to make the programs more watchable, but my concern is with the actual contestants. It seems reality TV contestants are becoming terribly formulaic: you have the gay one, the black one, the fat one, the old one, the airhead bimbo and the goody two-shoes. And most have gorgeous bodies. THIS is reality? Looking around, I see mostly average-bodied, sometimes-nice, sometimes-nasty people. Some are good-looking. Some are not. Most have a modicum of intelligence and are decent human beings. They would probably not make for good (read: exploitive) television, however, and therein lies the rub.

Reality television isn't real life at all - it's a beauty contest. Most of the contestants on these shows (with the exception of The Amazing Race) are such shallow airheads, I have to wonder where the producers find them. Perhaps they fill out a questionnaire and the ones that are the most vacuous and have the best measurements win a spot on the show. Compare, for instance, the first Survivor to Survivor Marquesas. On the first one, most of the contestants were normal people with normal lives, normal bodies and normal (not to mention diverse) personalities. It made for GREAT television. Survivor Marquesas, on the other hand, was filled with mostly muscle-bound morons that couldn't string an intelligent thought together if their lives depended on it (the less good-looking, more intelligent contestants were ousted early on). I suspect the two Bible-thumpers made it to the final because it appeared as though they could form intelligent thought simply by quoting the Bible. It was NOT great television. It wasn't even good television. It was a complete snorefest.

The latest Big Brother is the most air-headed reality installation yet. I'm not interested in watching nearly naked women strut their thong-clad bodies around, or smear peanut butter on their privates, or get naked with other hot bodies in a tub of slime (puh-leeze!). If I wanted to watch such a witless jiggle show, I'd turn to the Playboy Channel . Sure, it's great for horny teenage boys (have you noticed the airtime ratio of women to men is something like 4:1?), but what about the rest of us? I want to watch reality television to see REAL people. The kind of people I interact with every day. The kind of people that have personalities I'm familiar with (or that at least have a personality). The kind of people that could be me. Isn't that the whole point of reality television?

And I can't help but wonder: where are all the minorities? Of all the people I see and interact with every day, at least a third of them are non-white. Why isn't this reflected in these so-called "reality" shows? And not just because they are visible minorities (like the insulting token black man/woman on most reality television shows), but because ethnic diversity in America is REAL LIFE.

Reality television shows should either try harder to find real people to be contestants (maybe some that aren't wannabe actors), or stop presenting themselves as "reality" and simply call themselves what they are: silly game shows with pretty white people.

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