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Many words have been written explaining why programs such as Big Brother corrupt the youth, why survivor is wrong, why reality TV is full of contrived situations which bear as much relationship to reality as the a political party bears to a party. (Except for the tories who...ummm...what they do in their private lives is their own business). But reality TV isn't that bad.
There is a program on BBC world which I enjoyed whenever I managed to catch it while I was living in Switzerland. In it, there are a group of scientists who are on an island and each week they are given a task to do. This task involves improvisation, scientific materials and the use of materials available on a tropical island. This provides the audience with access to ideas, techniques and experiences in practical settings which they wouldn't normally be exposed to.
The we have the raft of programs where people are given tasks to do, and which provide a fascinating insight into group dynamics in unusual situations. Shows such as Survivor, where people both have to work as a team to accomplish a goal but also have to try to manipulate others to defeat them, provide an amazing insight into the psychology of people when faced with unfamiliar situations.
Also, these shows provide a much broader range of characters and people with life experience than actors playing doctors, actors playing lawyers, actors playing cops and actors playing actors (with the occasional comedian playing an actor playing any of the above). They show people from all walks of life (who can afford to take 6 months off work to appear in a TV program).They also provide more thrilling situations than ER. More realistic characters than Law and Order. More believable dialogue than... well, all of the shows written by people who's life experience consists of... writing TV shows.
As well, all this, it enables you to see new things you wouldn't normally get a chance to, such as the fish out of water programs, where an upperclass family slums it, or a family pretends they are living in ancient times, or a whole range of situations. This can be as educational as it is entertaining.
I saw this program once set in a farm where the producers encouraged the animals to rise up and kick off the owners. The animals then ran the farm themselves, with the pigs assuming the role of farm managers, and they had the dogs doing all the difficult secret jobs. It was really good. It showed which animals take on different roles, and we wouldn't normally get to see these things. Eventually, the pigs took over completely, and the animals were even worse off than they had been under the humans, but through good propaganda had been convinced that they were better off.
Actually, it amazed me just how many parallels there were with the 1917 Russian revolution.
More importantly, though, in general, these are programs which have a direct communication with the audience. They engage the audience, to the extent that more people will vote for Australian Idle by choice than will happily vote in the Federal elections. This also means that the people dictate the direction the show moves in with more control than just the figures of how many people watch a particular program. The only other area where this happens is professional sports, and then it is only the bookies who are able to determine what the results are.
So, in conclusion: Reality TV good, Russian Revolution better.
My favourite procrastinations
The Head Heeb - Jonathan provides a balanced view on various Israeli and (former) colonial states in less developed regions of the world.
The Bladder - a sports satire site. Well worth a look.