From one of the sites in my blogroll, This Blog Sits At The, a fresh look at the qualities of reality TV.
Reality programming is instructive. Pam and I watch Project Runway. I see a new design come down the runway, I take my money and I place my bet. Out loud, so that Pam can hear, I say what I think. And eventually I discover whether my judgment bore any resemblance to the experts who eventually hold forth.
It's clear that some education is taking place. My judgments diverge less and less. This means that this kind of reality programming is actually making me a more discerning observer of the world of fashion. It is helping me internalize my own modest mastery of the code.
Reality programming is not just cheap TV, it is responsive TV. Surely, one of the most sensible way for the programming executive to get back in touch with contemporary culture is to turn the show offer to untrained actors who have no choice but to live on screen, in the process importing aspects of contemporary culture that would otherwise have to be bagged and tagged and brought kicking and screaming into the studio and prime time. Reality programming is contemporary culture on tap. It is by no means a "raw feed." That is YouTube's job. But it is fresher than anything many executives could hope to manage by their own efforts. In effect, reality programming is "stealing signals" from an ambient culture, helping TV remain in orbit. (Mixed metaphor alert. Darn it, too late.)
This is an era in which we are inclined to issue lots of brave talk about cocreation, open source, and dynamic institutions. We speak of breaking down the citadel that separate the corporation from the real world. Well, this is actually what it looks like (for certain purposes). And funny old TV may in fact be one of the first meaning makers to figure out how we solve this particularly thorny problem. This, in turn, would make reality programming not the end of civilization as we know it, but a test case in what comes next.
What I find fascinating about reality programming are people who are addicted to the shows yet love to watch them just to tear down the participants. There is something bizarre in that ironic, conflicted behavior. Not that schadenfreude doesn't exist, but there is no greater charity you can contribute to a reality program participant than your eyeballs to their ratings.
Speaking of reality programming, Hulu now has the first episode of Architecture School.