VINCENT VS THE JUNGLE; SATURDAY ESSAY; as the Nation Reaches Crisis Point, a Powerful and Popular Current Affairs Show Is Shelved to Make Room for the Staged Antics of Hasbeen Celebrities. Do We Need More Proof That the Epidemic of 'Reality' TV (Which Is Anything but Real) Has a Corrosive Effect on Society?
Byline: by Dr Mark Dooley
FOR some, it is an addiction. For others, it is simply a moment of respite from recession and routine. But for me, reality TV is a morally corrosive cancer at the heart of our culture.
This is not to say that I condemn those who watch it, or that it is completely devoid of substance. Strictly Come Dancing, for example, is responsible for reviving interest in traditional forms of dance. In so doing, it reminds us that contained within authentic culture is the promise of moral and spiritual edification.
Shows like The X Factor, I'm a Celebrity...
Get Me Out of Here! and RTE's new offering, F ade Street, offer no such qualities.
If anything, they celebrate adolescence as the high point of human existence. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that The X Factor is more glorified karaoke than a tribute to talent.
Still, nobody can dispute the fact that reality TV has become the dominant force in home entertainment. You might think that, with the country on the brink of ruin, the Irish would be glued to current affairs programmes. Think again, for it was announced last week that Tonight with Vincent Browne would be off-air for the following three Mondays to accommodate the screening of I'm a Celebrity. That is to say, TV3 has decided, at this most critical juncture in the history of the Irish State, to ditch its hottest news programme for one depicting clapped-out stars getting down and dirty in a makeshift jungle. The blame, however, should not lie with the broadcaster. It is, after all, merely seeking to satisfy our seemingly insatiable appetite for such shows. Where does this hunger come from? Why, in a country that produced John Field, James Joyce, WB Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, are we now more addicted to Jedward and Cher Lloyd? And what implications does this fascination have for future generations? First, there is nothing real about so-called reality TV. It is more manufactured, more fake, than any drama or soap opera. Indeed, the hardships and challenges of real life, which the average soap mirrors perfectly, never feature in shows which brand themselves as 'reality'.
What, in other words, is real about people being forced to live in contrived situations where their every move is scrutinised? What is real about the glitzy lifestyle enjoyed by X Factor hopefuls? In neither case do we see people as they really are, burdened with all their worries, trials and tasks.
What we do see, however, is people manipulated to act and perform in accordance with the unscrupulous plans of television producers.
We salivate at the prospect of seeing their fears exposed, weaknesses revealed, their private lives mercilessly exposed.
WE long to see them frolic, fumble and, in certain cases, fail. Put simply, we want to see what should be kept private instead paraded in public for our titillation. And while that is normal for adolescents, it is abnormal for adults. It is, in other words, entirely excusable for an adolescent to challenge moral boundaries in an effort to experiment with life. Naturally, this involves voyeurism, as the teenager seeks to gaze upon those previously hidden aspects of the adult world.
But as adolescence gives way to adulthood, such behaviour becomes unacceptable. The morality of the public space demands that we cease prying others' personal lives. And that is because without privacy we cannot properly negotiate with each other as public citizens.
Shamelessness, humiliation and voyeurism are not, in short, normal features of the adult condition. Traditionally, culture sought to reflect that fact. Its principal ambition was to act as a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood, one which placed before the young a higher and nobler vision of humanity.
At its most basic, culture is a distillation of moral archetypes. When you listen to a great symphony, read a powerful novel or ponder the meaning of a painting, you do not encounter a mirror image of yourself. …