Paris-TV is neither in Paris nor television

I like to think I don’t have an addictive personality. I can do most things in moderation…Except when it comes to television.

In the presence of cable TV, I get lost in an entertainment vacuum. So back in 2001, I got rid of cable. In fact, I’ve lived without it for most of my young adulthood. It’s been a good exercise. I’ve had an antenna for the past few years and life with 7 channels has worked out pretty well. I still have access to the CBC, the CTV, and a homegrown treasure, Télé-Québec. On weekends, there’s seldom anything on until Sunday evening, so I can keep busy doing other things.

Then, the boyfriend and I decided to move in together, and he insisted on cable TV. We got a satellite installed earlier this week, and since then, I’ve had a chance to fully grasp how the televised landscaped has morphed into its own version of 2.0.

Not that I haven’t been exposed to cable in the past few years, but the breadth of it is something I haven’t had the opportunity to consider much. In short, it’s a vast and veritable desert of “reality,” populated with rootless Joshua Trees in the form of Dr. Firstnames and long-supernovaed stars. I could take the snooty approach and call it a wasteland, but isn’t that beating a dead horse? That’s what we were saying about TV back in the pre-Survivor days of Who’s the Boss and even Friends. Anyway, how could I possibly look down on anything that’s this fascinating.

Granted, the term “celebrity” can be used a little more loosely than before, but you have to love how some people are perfectly willing to live it out in front of cameras. In Madonna’s Truth or Dare, the queen’s then-boyfriend Warren Beatty commented on how she didn’t seem to want to do anything unless a lens was following her. Back then, we called Madonna an exhibitionist. Today, we’d never so much as hear her voice over the phone on a reality show. Funny, innit?

Still, some of the world’s biggest stars aren’t so reserved. Take Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels. A compelling, if somewhat contrived, take on the Osbournes’ format. If anything, it’s more of a Gene Simmons infomercial (he’s a businessman first, a star second), but I still enjoy the bits where his kids take a few loving jabs at their dad. Then there’s Paris Hilton’s New BFF. Okay, so people might question the validity of her stardom, but girl got gumption! I can understand how people would participate in The Apprentice for a shot at working alongside a real estate mogul, but going through a series of “challenges” to see if you’re fit to be someone’s friend? That’s just crazy talk. Until Paris Hilton turns it into a show…that people watch!

Has TV turned into a barren landscape? Maybe, but that’s the nature of the medium. It doesn’t produce offspring very well (name 5 successful spin-offs; yeah, didn’t think so). It’s not the kind of thing you can cultivate or grow, and you’d probably have an easier time training a Siamese cat. When you think of it, it’s a lot like Las Vegas: a mirror that reflects what we want most and where we are as a society. What does reality TV tell us about ourselves? Our curiosity about real life is as important as our need to escape through fiction. Also, it’s quite possible we all have A.D.D.

Sure, I miss the days when MuchMusic was about music, but you have to love how your next job interview could well be televised. Now there’s a revolution.

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Fabulous footnote: Has anyone noted the progress of Nikki McKibbin? According to her IMDB page, she’s had more appearances as her “self” in her career as a performer. She first came to TV in Popstars, ranked 3rd in the first season of American Idol, participated in Fear Factor, Battle of the Network Reality Stars and All-Star Reality Reunion (aired in 2005, a mere 3 years after her American Idol not-so-victory), before ending up on Celebrity Rehab and Sober House. Her entire success depends on being a fuck-up on TV. At least she’s always had cool hair.

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7 thoughts on “Paris-TV is neither in Paris nor television

  1. What we’re seeing, as far as television goes, is the medium not knowing who it is anymore. Blame it on the internet and short attention spans. This is _really_ what gave rise to reality television, in part, is the advent and mass adoption of user-generated content, which gave all of us a window into the lives of others, celebrity or not. In the end, we only have ourselves to blame for television’s dysfunctionality as an entity (if we’re to give it a persona).

    In the 80s and 90s, what we were given was purely fictional entertainment, news and sport content; none of which we, as viewers, had any influence over.

    Enter the internet. Specifically, the so-called ‘Web 2.0’ phenomenon (I’m convinced we’re still at Web 1.5, but all right, what do I know? I’m just in advertising … ): so now we’re talking about our blogs, our Facebooks, our MySpaces and, perhaps most important of all, our YouTubes. Our lives — all of them — for all of the world to see, laid bare. Television, as a medium, if didn’t shift gears and quickly, was risking its own relevence by not adopting some of the realities the internet presented it with.

    So combine the inherent exhibitionism of the modern internet with the Western obsession with the intimate lives of celebrities (fabricated or not. I suggest you read William Gibson’s novel ‘Idoru’ for a frightening potential insight on the fabrication of celebrity … ), and you have television gradually re-identifying itself in order to stay relevent.

    Regardless: it was more or less a wasteland when we were kids, and it still is.

    So, incidentally, is the internet. 🙂

    • Right you are on all counts.

      You bring an important point to the “discussion”: the Internet. It really shaped the TV landscape. On top of creating competition between reality and fiction, I think it also forced fiction to become stronger. The result is the gradual extinction of laugh tracks in comedy, and fancier camera work in drama (see Battlestar Galactica and CSI: Miami), among other things. I actually kind of like it, but we’re in sort of a 1.5/2.0 stasis right now, a bit like when Nirvana made grunge kind of trendy. What I mean is, what’s next when the fourth wall is torn down and dead?

  2. Interesting you mention BSG, as a side-note. Science-fiction-as-cinéma-vérité. But, that’s really Ronald D Moore trying to shake off the Utopian dust of his Star Trek: TNG and DS9 days, as opposed to any sort of real Internet look-at-me-make-lightsaber-sounds-and-do-a-belly-flop exhibitionism on YouTube influence, and make his programme more relevant to a post-9/11 (there, another term I loathe) audience.

    For the record, the show jumped the shark in series 4. I’m not enjoying it at all.

  3. Sure, but stronger fiction seems to have emerged at around the same time as user-generated, exhibitionist/voyeur Internets. I’m not saying they’re directly related, just not mutually exclusive.

    In general, I think comedy got smarter, but I believe the Internet made people smarter too (or at least gave them more access to more information), so the usual antics aren’t as easy to resort to. Humour evolved in a more sophisticated way, and that’s not a bad thing.

    Re: BSG, series 4. I’m glad they’re wrapping things up. In the end, we’ll remember the story, not the episodes, and that’s also not a bad thing.

  4. Ah, but has comedy got more clever, or just more acerbic? Is fiction actually that much stronger, or just more tasteless?

    Listen to Terry O’Reilly’s Age of Persuasion Podcast on the CBC, on the tone of modern advertising, and draw the analogue with what passes for entertainment these days:

    http://www.cbc.ca/ageofpersuasion/2009/01/episode_3_of_season_2_nasty_is.html

    Really good insight to be had, here, not just on the advertising industry, but also the entertainment industry. He’s from our parents’ generation, but his insights are nonetheless spot-on.

  5. You should do.

    I’ve pretty much ordered any creative that has worked under me in the last, say, three years to listen faithfully to Terry weekly and apply what they’ve learnt to the business.

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