Saturday, June 21, 2008

How to Analyse a Reality Show

It was 8:00 p.m., and I was home with my three favourite companions - pasta, pizza and television. I had to catch up on news, read the papers, work out, wash clothes and wash my house in honour of a barrage of relatives due to descend on me. So what caught me watching "How to Find a Husband" with its gaudy pink hearts and gaudier anchor with still gaudier makeup?

If I told you it was a light bulb...

Well, I will tell you it's a light bulb. Apparently, women go through a compulsion to get married and settle down some time in their twenties, when all their single friends are snapping up the dregs of the male species in the panic of this sentiment. At this point, women will agree to marry anything. Sometimes, when I wash my hands with detergent to remove the moisturiser so I can open cans and wear high heels to fix bulbs so I will spare myself the trouble of dragging a chair over and find myself cursing the gas cylinder for weighing so much when I hoist it up the stairs, it strikes me that indentured manual labour just might be a good idea. Yes, a good idea despite all the times I've told my mother getting married just in case you feel the need for companionship when you're old and alone is like having a mastectomy just in case you develop breast cancer at some point in your life.

Apparently, the idea struck anchor-host-husband-hunter Sally Gray a few years after it struck me. I decided to work out. She decided to find herself a husband. The ten weeks of her hunt have been documented carefully, and you tend to feel sorry for the poor woman and even sorrier for the men she dates, analyses and embarrasses to an audience of mostly single and sometimes (as in my case, relationship theorists).

Another one of these is "Try My Life"...a show where mother and daughter swap lives. Most of these mothers are single parents and most of the daughters are brats. I've seen a couple of these, and I wonder whether they can ever go back to living normal lives once they've seen on television what they really think of each other.

Then there's "Wife Swap"...a means, I think, of families reassuring themselves their mothers/wives don't completely suck, and there are a couple of people who could make life more of a nightmare.

And there's "I Would Do Anything" or something of the sort, where you undertake three tasks, which involve pain, sacrifice and embarrassment and decide to put yourself out there for someone you apparently love to get something they want.

Another show that comes to mind is "For Better or For Worse", where a couple leaves its wedding in the hands of a group of friends and relatives, with a budget of five thousand dollars.

Now, what is more interesting than who watches these shows, is who participates in them. What could inspire you to watch on while your mother/sister/girlfriend cycles up a mountain, eating tonnes of crappy food, gets slammed by tennis balls and then has to strip down to a bikini in front of an audience, just so you can hang out with a NASCAR racer? What would inspire you to switch your family with another one, get into someone else's house and pretend it's yours? What would make a sixteen-year-old girl swap jobs with her mother, and a mother go to her daughter's school to take lessons?

Do we live in such troubled times that we need validation from an international audience before we can look inside ourselves? Do we crave attention so much from the people whom we love that we are willing to draw the attention of television addicts worldwide?

Then again, who makes these programmes? The hunt for TRPs seems to have reached the stage where you would do just about anything to get your show ratings. There's even a show where the producers play private eye, trying to catch people cheating on their partners.

Your relationship is out there for the world to see. The world is watching the private lives of everyone who cares to put it out there. And camera crews are rushing around, competing to deliver the most humiliating, theatrical show they can. A few centuries ago, I believe our forefathers turned to cock-fights, witch-burning, public executions and crucifications for entertainment.

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