It’s official: thanks to television, the word “reality” has now lost all meaning. The evidence is all around us. For instance, Gavin Henson was recently described as a “rugby player-turned reality star”, which was a reference to his role in Five’s “romantic reality series” The Bachelor.
If you conveniently missed the series a few months ago, the basic premise was this: Gavin Henson is a successful and dashingly handsome man (if a perma-tanned version of Guy Smiley from Sesame Street gives you the horn) but there’s something missing from his life – the love of a good woman. Thankfully Channel Five rushed to his aid, turned his light-sensitive eyes away from the abyss he was staring into, packed him off to a swanky villa on the Côte d’Azur and delivered 25 single women to his doorstep, who proceeded to battle (not in the conventional sense, unfortunately) for his affections.
I think we can all relate to that dating set-up, can’t we?
“I’ve got to leave my ego at the door and wear my heart on my sleeve,” said a contemplative Gavin in the opening episode. Although, coming from a man who’d turn up for work at an undertakers with his shirt off, I doubt he’s got even a metaphorical sleeve on which to pin his heart. But in Channel 5’s version of ‘reality’ it didn’t really matter where he pinned it. He could’ve dangled it from one of his rock hard nipples, like a bloody Christmas bauble, and I doubt any of the women would have cared. They seemed to be unquenchably hot for him regardless.
The Bachelor actually reminded me of a fantasy I used to have when I was about 14, whereby if I passed an attractive woman on the street I could simply touch her on the shoulder and she would immediately make her way to a waiting coach (filled with numerous other women I’d acquired throughout the day). The destination of the coach would be some kind of palace, and all the women who ended up there would have sex with me whenever I asked.
Two things now strike me about this: (1) Even in my wildest sexual fantasies I was only prepared to lay on budget coach travel, and (2) herding women onto a coach and transporting them to a palatial compound for sex is how I imagine ruthless despots and sex traffickers meet women.
Anyway, I digress. The fact is: reality television isn’t real. It doesn’t even have a vague whiff of reality about it, so why are so many shows branded with the ‘reality’ tag?
Kerry Katona once starred in an ITV ‘reality’ series called My Fair Kerry, which was described at the time as a “Faking It style programme in which she goes to Vienna and tries to pass herself off as a member of the English aristocracy”. Unless Iceland was training her to become some kind of undercover operative who could infiltrate ambassadorial functions, with the aim of replacing Ferrero Rocher pyramids with platters of partially defrosted prawn rings, the ‘reality’ aspect of the series was a complete mystery.
If you want cold, hard reality, here’s a glimpse into my world…
I once blocked my toilet with a Glade Touch ‘n Fresh dispenser and had to poke around the U-bend with a straightened coat hanger to try and dislodge it, like an enthusiastic punter playing a dirty fairground game. Then, after mistakenly believing that I’d cleared the blockage, I decided – unwisely, as it turned out – to do a much-needed poo. Initial relief was then swiftly followed by a panicked call to Dyno-Rod and the immediate activation of ‘Operation Dustpan’ to remove the offending log from the swollen waters of my toilet before the plumber arrived.
“Just imagine you’re panning for gold,” my brain kindly suggested, in an effort to transpose the grim reality with a hastily cobbled together fantasy. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the effort my brain was making, but unless I imagined myself as a prospector who only ever turned up giant lumps of shit instead of gold it was incredibly difficult to get into character. Thankfully, however, I eventually managed to resolve the unpleasant situation to everyone’s satisfaction (perhaps with the exception of my local binmen).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this particular situation would make for a ratings-winner of a reality television series (although, ITV2 may now get in touch with some suggestions as to how I might tweak the format) but at least it was a real situation. And if there genuinely was a reality TV choice between watching Kerry Katona being filmed in a variety of banal situations, or watching someone scooping turds out of a toilet basin, I know exactly which one I’d series-link on Sky Plus.
Unfortunately, ‘structured/scripted/semi-reality’ TV is now all the rage, with shows such as The Only Way Is Essex and Made In Chelsea inflicting a host of vacuous idiots on the world, who’ve swiftly been elevated to the status of minor deities by the readers of Heat, Reveal, Now and Tedious Cockends Weekly magazines. And all those vacuous idiots had to do was allow their ‘real’ lives to be filmed. Well, the filming usually takes place after the production team has decided on the locations for each scene, and after a ‘story producer’ has informed the various cast members of the conversations they should engage in – but after all that’s over with, it’s about 80% real (according to TOWIE cast member Mario Falcone).
Only a few months ago, however, it was reported that Jack Tweed was rumoured to be set for a role in The Only Way Is Essex, but the show’s producers apparently vetoed the idea because they considered him “too famous“. I think that’s all the proof we need that TOWIE is about as far from reality as it’s possible to be.
Desperate Scousewives is the latest “reality drama” to hit our screens, which will follow “the next generation of Liverpudlians…real guys and girls determined to make a name for themselves, work hard and achieve a dream no matter how big or small”.
Thankfully, I left the country shortly before this series began so I haven’t had a chance to watch these “real guys and girls” in action. However, I did manage to have a quick look at some of the cast members on the show’s official website. Basically, if you can imagine what a Westworld-style amusement park might look like if it was created by Nuts magazine, you can probably visualise the female cast without having to watch the show at all. In fact, their perky, enhanced breasts look like they could swing open on hinges, revealing a nest of wires and circuitry (or perhaps a simple storage compartment for false nails and make-up). You might even be able to pop some bread into their vaginas and have perfect toast in just under a minute. They’re certainly impressive multi-purpose androids. So lifelike. But not real. Is reality really so fake?
The sad reality of Desperate Scousewives is that the show’s producers could have scoured Liverpool’s diverse population of over 445,200 people for an interesting cast of real people, but instead they lazily opted to feature yet more fodder for the celebrity magazine circuit, playing opposite male counterparts who look like they’ve fallen out of the Grattan catalogue. The result is a glossy televisual construct of meaningless bullshit. It’s entertainment for some, but it’s not real.
So can we kill off reality TV? Or at least eradicate any mention of the word ‘reality’ from any series based on a faintly preposterous premise. And can we all please avoid uttering the word when referring to the artificial worlds of Essex, Chelsea, Newcastle and Liverpool. Oh, and I’d also like to propose that we phase out the term ‘reality star’. Because let’s face it, if these idiots are the leading lights of our reality – where the fuck does that leave us?