Is it Real?

Reality television is a huge part of contemporary program scheduling and has grown vastly over the last decade, particularly with the arrival of Big Brother in the early noughties.

As a Boulevarider, reality TV first entered my sphere in the late 1980s when reruns were shown of the 1970s show, The Family. It was then called a fly-on-the-wall documentary and followed the Wilkins’ family from Reading, originally made and screened in the 1970s. We followed their daily lives and viewed everything – warts and all. It felt so voyeuristic and I watched with wonder at their transparency, and entered their homes and existences. Today we might refer to it as car crash viewing but then it felt fresh, innovative and just so exposing.

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I forgot about the format as it seemed to disappear and pressed through the 1990s and was aware of the format again with the first UK series of Big Brother. My flatmate had recommended that we watch it. We were glued from the first episode. I lived the ups and the downs and was instantly taken with the sheer pantomime. Who remembers Nick from the first series? I literally despised him and championed Craig who exposed his scheming! As soon as the series ended I was looking for the next.

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Big Brother grew with the second series, as did my viewing pleasure. I carried on as a devoted fan through to series eight and partially watched series nine and ten. At the height of its popularity and my excitement I would throw Big Brother parties and invite friends who were also addicted to drink and BBQ while we watched the final few housemates emerge. We had shock, anger, tears and laughter and enjoyed every moment.

It seemed that the success of Big Brother and other shows, such as Survivor, catapulted the genre into the juggernaut it is today.

Talent shows like Pop Idol and The X Factor have maintained mainstream appeal.

However, a percentage of the mainstream has fallen out of love with reality television. There is not the same excitement among friends when new series start and the Facebook chat has slowed down also. I however, stay excited and shocked in equal measure at the shenanigans these shows portray. I completely immerse and believe everything I see. Well I believe while I am watching anyway.

When asked why I watch such shows I tend to attempt a response which provides intellectual reasoning.

‘I think it’s an anthropological study.’ or

‘The insight psychologically is amazing!’

While this reasoning is true and I hope gives me credibility, I also love the characters and their tomfooleries.

I can’t live without The Kardashians or Honey BooBoo. How could I sleep if I didn’t know the latest goings on in LA and rural Georgia?

The Hills started faux reality TV where most of the events are true but accentuated and some scenes are set up for our viewing pleasure. This resulted in UK versions such as TOWIE, Made in Chelsea and Desperate Scousewives. I loved them all. My excitement for TOWIE has waned and Desp Scousers was cancelled, but Made is Chelsea is still epic viewing. I don’t care if some of the scenes are staged. It makes for better viewing.

I wrote recently about Catfish which is also a recent and unique reality show.

I have a mini-obsession with the Real Housewives of Everywhere: Atlanta, New Jersey, New York, Beverly Hills, Orange County and Vancouver. The lives of these women and their friends and families are extraordinary and certainly eye opening. They constantly fall out. They create villains and heroes. And as the shows have progressed, we have seen how changes in the world economy  have really affected, in particular, the Real Housewives of Orange County.

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I think this genre is missing from any UK reality TV and I sent a pitch to reality TV production companies last year and am thinking about another.

The first was Bonkers in Berko and centred around a group of friends who live in and around Berkhamsted. I wanted to recommend a show which followed the lives of a group of cool, eventful forty year olds (mostly) as opposed to the twenty somethings who are the common modern reality fodder. I wanted to show that us forties aren’t all Horlicks and PJs.

No responses. Don’t they know a hit when they see it? Unfortunately a few of the would-be stars of the show, my cast, also said they weren’t as keen to appear as I was. Are they mad! It would have been a phenomenon.

More recently I thought of a new show which could be called, The Real but Displaced Boulevardiers of London. I’m pretty sure it would be a fantastic show. Don’t you? I need to find more candidates and build it into a pitch. Surely the production companies wouldn’t miss two hit shows in a row!

I’ll keep you all posted.

TNW

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Catfish

We all sometimes present a slightly different version of ourselves. At interviews we try and accentuate our saleable features and shroud our less marketable talents and characteristics.

Online we can present ourselves in a number of different ways too. For instance my Boulevardier persona is a part of me but is exaggerated for entertainment purposes. Some might suggest that it’s not embellished at all.

When we act we take on different characters whether that be dramatically on a stage or just on a night out changing our name and circumstances when we talk to people we meet.

Does this ever become a problem? And how do people tip over the edge?

I have in the last couple of weeks been watching a TV show called Catfish. The Catfish of this show is a person who creates fake profiles on social media sites to market themselves as someone more attractive and appealing than their real selves.

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The reason behind the term Catfish according to our all-knowing World Wide Web is

They used to tank cod from Alaska all the way to China. They’d keep them in vats in the ship. By the time the codfish reached China, the flesh was mush and tasteless. So this guy came up with the idea that if you put these cods in these big vats, put some catfish in with them and the catfish will keep the cod agile. And there are those people who are catfish in life. And they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank god for the catfish because we would be droll, boring and dull if we didn’t have someone nipping at our fin.’

The first episode dealt with a young girl whose father was shot dead. As a result she went off the rails, drank too much and slept around. Her life turned about when she met a perfect guy on the internet who befriended her on Facebook. He became her boyfriend and despite their never having met were planning to spend the rest of their lives together. Suspicion was aroused by his never being available to web chat or meet.

The hosts of the show then come in to look at the evidence and try and track down who is behind the would be scam or in other words the identity of the Catfish. In this first episode the girl’s best friend had created the fake profile to help her get over the death of her father and used her cousin to be the male voice on the end of the phone. She tried to justify her actions as not knowing what else to do in trying to get her best friend to stop ruining her life.

The second episode centred on an gay ex-soldier, medically retired after being injured in the Middle East. He met a guy online who became his boyfriend of several months. They had never met and the same scenario ensued. This resulted in the team uncovering a very unhappy young man pretending to be someone else to deal with self-esteem issues in his own life.

The third episode which was shown this week told a similar story but this time the victim had been sending money to his Catfish who was a significantly less physically attractive girl than her internet profile suggested.

The show is astounding and shocking, and while each individual story is different there are similar dark threads of deception, desperation, denial and decay. There can be no longevity to the webs the Catfish weave but they don’t seem to be able to detach themselves when the situation is spiralling out of control.

Interestingly most of the people in the programme were young and under 25, and many under 21. Does that mean that this problem is associated only with the young or that only the young are prepared to put it on camera?

No one seems to get a good outcome and everyone whether the Catfish or victim end up with a bitter taste in their mouths. The deceivers have openly said that they started off with deception but really fell for the deceived. I have not yet seen anyone forgive the Catfish to the point of continuing with the relationship.

Our modern multimedia lives create great opportunities and shrink the world divides but this would definitely be one of the cons.

This pretending to be who you are not lark or in this case Catfishing (if there is such a term) becomes a problem, in my mind, when it starts to impact on other people in a negative way.

Hopefully my Boulevardier does not impact on anyone in a negative way and is a fun accentuation of me! I think it’s great to have a doppelgänger. I hope you enjoy him too…

(I would wage that no one expected a blog from me about fishing!)

TNW