"The Situation" in Reality Television
AN INTROSPECTIVE LOOK AS TO WHAT REALLY IS “THE SITUATION” IN REALITY TELEVISION TODAY
As an Italian-American, I have become familiar with what Hollywood has construed myself to be: an urban, misogynist wise-guy garnished with gold and hair gel. This was always fine with me, as I believed that people could separate life from screen. However, with the recent onset of The Jersey Shore and other insipid reality-shows, the line between reality and “actuality” (to borrow a True TV slogan) has shrunk if not dissolved. What’s even more troubling is the dangerous trajectory this sets for future generations, including the current pre-teen demographic. This problem does not remain within the confines of Italian-American “guidoism” as it applies to the indigenous species in the northeast with mainstays in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. The true exploitation lies within the female ”reality stars,” who are offered unearned platforms by television producers from which In a swirl of cat-fights so rampant you could tell the time of day by them, these girls have set the bar even lower for decorum on television (In fact, so low Britney Spears couldn’t bend over to grab it if Tara Reid was pushing her towards the floor). While reality television trail-blazed paths to stardom to an eclectic mix of people, at the culmination of this decade it has become clear that this sort of “exploitative programming” has eroded the modicum of dignity remaining in our society.
At its nascence, reality television offered a plethora of opportunities to television producers and viewers. With technology starting to evade television and film executives, pirating surfaced as an extra-curricular activity for many middle and high-school youth. Executives and producers began to scramble for innovative ways to maintain advertisement flow and audience interest, especially against burgeoning internet use (although the introduction of YOUTUBE in February 2005 would not only desecrate any strategy from television and film executives to stay afloat, but also completely reinvent the entire entertainment landscape). Executives began to jettison high-quality, expensive television comedies and dramas in place of trimming a television production staff down and hiring people with no prior television experience. In addition, since none of these “actors” belonged to SAG (Screen Actors’ Guild), producers could circumvent union rules and dues. It wasn’t very difficult to figure out what drove American audiences to their couches; unrelenting, mindless drama. This explorative approach to entertainment would prove a boon for the industry, starting with Survivor and The Osbournes, reality television quickly matured from a fad to a staple of the industry.
As with anything “new”, younger demographics are typically more inclined to lend attention towards it. This case was no different, as MTV had been experimenting with reality television long before any other television network believed it carried import or relevance. With shows like The Real World and Road Rules (and later, Flavor of Love , which would usher in celebrity dating) low-cost (and even low-grade) entertainment was being broadcasted by other fringe television networks. However, with the introduction of satellite television and other streaming media, the four major networks (NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC) would have to toe the line with the rest of the television empire, which included paying deference to the swirling popularity of reality television.
The reality “gauntlet” thrown down by MTV would force the “Big Four” to reconsider big tent-pole production. This would give birth to such shows as American Idol, and Extreme Makeover. These shows would foster not only loyal audiences, but successful spin-offs and create different niches under the reality television umbrella. However, arguably the biggest (certainly most controversial) reality show in the past few years has been The Jersey Shore.
The epitome of low-brow entertainment, The Jersey Shore serves as a repository for all kinds of behavior both lewd and crass. It is a prime of example of the exploitation of sex and women; especially given its ability to make the guido lifestyle not only seem reachable, but luxurious. The inimitable “The Situation” offers no depth, as one of the mainstays of reality is television is that characters remain static. Sometimes these characters don’t learn their lesson; their moral compass remaining stagnant. “Snooki” demonstrates the bare minimum it takes to become a celebrity, and how uncouth “guidettes” can be. Jargon such as “grenade” and “grenade horn” have entered our pop culture lexicon.
The end result is a show that packages “guidoism” as a seductive lifestyle. What separates The Jersey Shore from other celebrity shows is that it depicts a type of living that is within reach of its audience. Tanning, lifting weights, and keeping yourself fresh isn’t difficult or too costly. So is the obstrepous behavior, disregard for others, and absence of loyalty to anyone but your own genetalia. The core appeal of this show is to demonstrate that people can live their lives with free discretion and not, at least as it appears on television, bear any repercussions. What captivates audiences is the apprehensible behavior and apathetic regard for others.
Television continues to evolve, thankfully not just toward trashy reality, however. An offshoot of the industry’s shift towards reality television has been an outpouring of documentaries and shows like A&E’s Intervention. In order to extract and remove entertainment abscesses like The Jersey Shore, we must vote with our remote controls. Our taste for moral turpitude and vile behavior has caught up with us.
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