Friday, 09 July 2010

A Decade In The Limelight

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Does reality TV need a reality check?
Widely regarded as car crash television, some have even labelled it the lowest common denominator, but whether we like it or not, the past 10 years have very much belonged to reality television. Having gripped a nation, it has dominated our tabloids and transformed ordinary members of the public into overnight stars - Leona Lewis, Will Young, Jade Goody and Alexandra Burke, to name just a few. But as we begin a new decade, has time run out for the Victorian freak show that is reality television?

Let us start by asking 'what is meant by 'Reality Television?' By definition, it is a relatively new and diverse concept and thus hard to contextualise, but one question that often crops up is 'does it even represent 'reality'? Take Big Brother for example; a 3 month game show that records round-the-clock footage of an enclosed group of unfamiliar people, broadcasting a 30 minute pre-edited 'best bits' show each evening, as housemates complete tasks for food and vote one another off one by one. Or how about the newly tinkered format of last year's X-factor, where the auditions took place in front of an audience of 3000 other auditionees? Does this sound at all like 'reality' to you? Many would argue no, and they would have a strong case too.

But Nikk Mager, star of Popstars: The Rivals, disagrees, saying, "You see the growth and preparation into who they want to become. Rather than buying into a product that's already been packaged, you see a lot of what goes on behind the scenes and that can be a huge plus because you get to connect more to who you are voting for on a more personal level."

It could even be argued that because show business is in many ways very unreal, reality television is in fact a safer way into the performing arts industry, acting as a transitional period; an amalgamation of reality and unreality. And let us not forget about the success stories too, because it's easy to forget that Cheryl Cole, like Nikk Mager, was also brought to our attention by singing competition Pop Stars: The Rivals, whilst others likes Will Young and Lemar have also had successful music careers off the back of reality television.

Mager, who has since gone on to have a successful post-Popstars-The Rivals music career with boyband Phixx, went on to explain, "My biggest achievements were thanks to Popstars: The Rivals 8 years ago, as it was through that reality window, the five of us formed a successful boyband, who went on to score a number one album, a top ten and three top twenty chart hits, which lead to us performing on Top of the Pops back in 2003 with 'hold on me'. I dare say without that show, I may not have achieved that goal which was always a big ambition of mine."

But as with everything, the good come with the bad and reality television is no different, introducing us to many aspiring hopefuls over the years, some who have even made it through their respected TV shows as winners, only to be met by half hearted promises of stardom, followed all too often by short lived careers. But this after all, is their dream; it always has and it always will and reality television to them is the easiest way to achieve it.

But for how long will reality television continue to have such an influence over the showbiz industry? Will it continue to churn out pop star after pop star, Z-list after Z-list, much in the same way an Indonesian sweat shop would do trainers? Well if The Rage Against The Machine inspired movement that stood up to the music moguls was anything to go by, then unlikely, but in the defence of reality television, in its 10 or so years in existence, it has evolved, and like everything, it will carry on doing so, if we allow it to that is. There will be an alternative to Big Brother, whilst the X-Factor will continue taking to new, giddy heights. And with that in mind, let us end by asking; 'is there still a place in our TV schedules and indeed our hearts for reality television and if so, should it be relied upon as a valid and commendable way into the showbiz industry?' Well it's certainly the quickest, the most accessible and as a result, the craziest, but who are we, the millions who tune in every week, to question the commendability of someone's dream? After all, it was Freud who once said "Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy".