Transformation as Narrative and Process: Locating Myth and Mimesis in Reality TV

Article excerpt

Abstract:

The terrain of television has been perceived as mythopoeic with its ability to integrate the real and the unreal, crafting a liminal space which is always betwixt and between. The recent debates about the medium have centred on the genre of reality television where new boundaries are constantly transgressed. This paper re-visits the theories of television as a myth space and examines why reality television is accommodated within this liminal paradigm where the familiarity of folklores and storytelling fuse narratives of transformation in lifestyle-based reality programmes. This transformative agency in television assumes both concrete and abstract forms reflecting both the cultural context of a society and the power of the medium to represent and distort the real.

Key words: myth, reality TV, narrative, ritual, Lifestyle programmes

Introduction

Lifestyle television has been classified as a sub-genre of reality television in as much as it claims to represent the real (Palmer 2004). This paper examines reality television particularly the lifestyle-based makeover programmes by relating it to theories of television as a myth space where reality and fantasy occupy a liminal world. It argues that the reality television genre capitalises on the mythic dimensions of television to construct transformation narratives in makeover programmes. Myth and mimesis (of the real) are co-conspirators in constructing a mediated reality. In relating myth and mimesis to lifestyle television and makeover formats, this paper draws considerably from Roger Silverstone's theories of television and the medium's ability to locate itself between two worlds and to transgress boundaries between not only reality and fiction but between common and specialist knowledge. Equally, reality television's intrinsic ability to blur boundaries further augments this process.

Gareth Palmer (2004) in discussing the class discourses and ideologies in lifestyle makeover shows moots the need to enquire further into ordinary people appearing on television. In identifying that people 'understand television as an active agent of transformation', he asserts that 'we need to ask what they expect from it?' (Palmer 2004: 190). While this paper does not set out to answer this particular enquiry, it nevertheless seeks to analyse the transformative agency of television. It contends that the transformative element manifests in television

in material forms as visual and textual narratives and equally as an abstract process where an ordinary person's appearance (and perhaps journey) in this public space and communal consumption signifies a liminal world between their ordinary lives and celebrity status. This paper argues that this liminal experience is enabled through the appropriation of both myth and rituals in the formats of makeover programmes.

The compression of time and manipulation of visual imagery often enact a story in which the transformative narrative constitutes a pivotal element in lifestyle television. The television space in this sense is depicted as a transformative sphere where miracles and makeovers can happen and where happy outcomes are embedded within the narrative plot. In tandem with the integration of this distinct transformative space is the emergence of television experts who weave magic into the everyday and mundane lives of people, leaving nothing unchanged. The relentless ability to effortlessly transform badly-behaved children, gardens, homes, outdated wardrobes, wrinkled faces and obese bodies is a distinct characteristic of makeover reality shows. Their popularity and their inherent ability to convince that change can happen are bound with the mythic and folkloric tradition in every culture. In our contemporary culture, television appropriates this myth space where its location as a liminal space between reality and fiction and its accent on the visual enables transformative narratives to draw on the mythic as well as the primitive. …