As an active, social participant of many facets of popular culture, spanning from literature, to film, radio, social media and music, I have been noticing a definite trend as of late; a surprising one that is becoming more prominent. I put this out there as I wonder if others are seeing the same thing as I am.
I have noticed that celebrities and new expressions of mainstream popular culture are sliding toward focusing on stars and celebrities that reflect “the average person”, rather than the flashy unreach-ables that they used to be. I appreciate that this is a long standing trend within the alternative, indie culture, but it’s a fairly new concept for mainstream media; what were once a collection of celebrity gods who provided an aspirational aura of envy and awe to the masses, are now starting to become more like the rest of us.
In film, young stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley are fresh faces, continually praised for their ‘down-to-earth’ attitude to celebrity. They trip up stairs when accepting awards and give the impression that they are simple, happy-go-lucky people on and off the screen. In addition, the widely popular movies they star in, such as The Hunger Games and A Fault In Our Stars, are stories based on books about the average person overcoming obstacles they are faced with inside a non-magical, humanistic society; i.e.: the leading character could be any of us, struggling with simple mortality. The edgy bad cops and flawless superheroes are out, and the average, flawed achievers are in.
In music, newer, successful artists have shifted from the flashy Lady Gagas and Beyoncés, who were very relevant a few years ago, to far more conservative, genuine artists such as Ed Sheeran and Adele, who have cut their teeth tirelessly making their way to the top, singing songs they’ve written about university and the pain of lost loves. The Havana Brown image with her skimpy dress and porcelain doll look, having ink poured all over her, singing the same repetitive songs as everything else out there is out, and the curvy, soul singer or the guitar slinging, redhead boy next door is in.
Even the push with new reality TV shows, such as The Block and My Kitchen Rules, sport a full cast of average-Joes, each with their own laundry list of flaws, entertaining us through being ‘one of us’, rather than the traditional, beautiful, out-of-reach celebrity. Whilst reality TV is nothing new, having civilians like us perform tasks of normalcy, such as renovation or cooking, gives the audience an easy way to completely relate to the real people we see on our screens; they’re not just sitting in a house like traditional reality TV, they’re performing DYI jobs and cooking just like we all do almost everyday. The make-up polished superstar bathed in lights is out, and the batter mixing house wives and bickering creative couples are in.
This is an interesting trend, as ‘celebrity’ has always been defined as a person with a status symbol, so distant from the average person (with all due respect), so far as to say that their talent, wealth and connections are what most of us dream about. When you go to a music concert, you pay to see this amazing rock star on stage, waltzing around amongst all the glitz and glamour, then leaving in their private, black windowed car to escort them back to their penthouse suite within the best hotel in the city, alongside a complete entourage. Those celebrities go out and buy an island, or ten Ferraris. Now, we have singers like Guy Sebastian who, upon obtaining his first royalties cheque, buys a boat to go fishing with his family, or J. K. Rowling who discovered success on the brink of poverty and gives significant amounts to charity.
What are we watching on TV these days? Have we stopped to think?
I heard a radio interview this morning with a lady named Abby Lee from the reality TV show Dance Moms. They began with a little introduction which featured an audio clip of the show with Abby screaming at the young dancers and their mothers- and I'm talking REALLY screaming. It was something along the lines of telling the child to leave her dance studio because she couldn't remember a step, and then yelling at the mother as she defended her daughter.
Don't get the wrong impression- I am far from a stick in the mud and I don't like ranting about things that I am sure others get entertainment out of, but I am an observational person, and I was just personally starting to witness a trend in TV content that I wanted to point out.
It is no secret that reality TV remains on the rise, and while this may be tapering out a little from its birth several years ago, it is now still a prominent segment in all television channels' repertoires. However, it seems to me that the original reality TV shows in previous years are starting to not be enough to slake the thirst of reality TV show consumers anymore. Shows like Dance Moms, where the central theme is based on extremely controversial areas and the conflict that naturally ensues is now becoming the new norm.
While I am sure no one in TV land admits it, the reality TV shows that are successful now are the ones that follow ridiculously amped amounts of conflict. Take the highly popular Keeping Up With The Kardashians show for example- the show thrives when newer episodes contain family feuds, marriage break ups, sibling rivalry and awkward conversations. Even the talent shows, like The Voice, have moved from the focus on the actual talent, toward more of the failures, the sob stories, the misfits and the questionable performances at the original auditions phase of the show. Those segments always attract high numbers of watchers and social media buzz, with audience members all too eager to observe the humiliation these hopefuls put themselves through for fifteen minutes of fame.
What do we have now on TV?
It is almost like "normal" reality TV shows (and I say normal with HUGE quotation marks) are not enough anymore, with all channels running around in hysterics for ratings. If they want large audience numbers, they have to up the reality television ante by plying contestants with copious amounts of alcohol to get them to lower their inhibitions and pitting them against each other. Then, it's left to the magic of the editors to make the scene look even worse that it is, and combine that with pushy Producers, and we have a recipe for an enthralling catastrophe.
For example, there is a new show just released in America called Killer Karaoke, which takes the reality talent show category to an all new height (sometimes literally): the young hopefuls are given the opportunity to sing to prove their talent, while facing their worst fear. One girl recently had to sing whilst being dipped into a pit of snakes, and was told that if she really wanted to 'make it', the show must go on regardless of the serpent interruptions.
So, again, I pose my question: Are we becoming increasingly addicted to reality TV conflict? Are we so desensitised now by "normal" TV, that we crave shows where there are guaranteed plummeting pitfalls, fiery friction and aggressive arguments?
As a writer, I am sad to see less and less emphasis on script writing, with this surge of unscripted TV, but if these are the shows getting the ratings now, TV channels have no choice but to find more and more ways to put people in extremely awkward positions to satisfy their audience's taste for blood.
Is it our fault as an audience, or is it the networks, or is it a self-perpetuating cycle, snowballing out of control? What do you think?