Everybody Wants to be on TV: A New Attitude to Reality TV


“Forget Audrey Hepburn, Forget Bette Davis. I want to be known, just for being famous. I can’t act, I can’t dance, I can’t sing, can’t you see? But I’m young and I’m pretty and that’s all that you need.”

Listening to Scouting For Girls as I’m often wont to do when putting off writing an important essay, I was struck by these lyrics from ‘Famous’, an upbeat song from their new album Everyone Wants To Be On TV. Putting aside their clumsy attempt at satire, these words do ring true and continue to be the theme of a myriad of newspaper articles and magazines features about the disposable ‘celebrities’ that are processed and spat out every year by the pop-culture machines known as Big Brother, The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, American Idol and Insert-Generic-Simon-Cowell-Show-Here.

As inevitable as the tear-filled speeches about the contestant’s dream of winning for their dead mum/cousin/hamster are, the sneering comment pieces criticising and satirising the talent show industry, claiming that their only object is to become a veritable freak show available for the viewing public to scoff, ridicule and link to from YouTube to Facebook. Pretty much the kind of article that you suppose you’re leading up to right now.

Well, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you. I am an unashamed fan of reality shows because I have no problem watching deluded fools reaching pitches that only dolphins and bats can hear in front of the nation. It is a freak show, but the freaks are willing. If anything, that atrocious minute segment on The X Factor has satisfied their longing for their fifteen minutes of fame and will be recorded and played over and over again to Mum, Dad, Auntie Judy, the next door neighbours and their pets.

With regards to Big Brother, I’m always strangely impressed by the housemates’ ability to create money and a living from their personalities or relationships without any discernible talent whatsoever, bringing new meaning to the lyric “I’m young and I’m pretty and that’s all that you need”. It is always very easy for university students and TV critics to sit back and jeer knowingly, safe in the knowledge that their education and intellect will almost definitely, probably, maybe enable them to make a living that favours their mind over their body or their voice.

It is time to cast aside the inherent snobbery against reality television shows, those that participate in them and those that watch them. It may be seen as a quick route to fame that quickly fades but reality shows are here to stay and they have many more dancing dogs, prima donnas and nose flautists to offer us.

Originally published on The Yorker 1st June 2010


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