My name is Saltydog, and I am an addict.
I have kept this addiction secret for several years. It's okay, I can handle it. It hasn't got any worse over time. But the moment has come to admit my addiction and begin to embrace it. The fact is, I am a fan of reality TV.
RTV is much maligned. The 'critics' still treat it all as not as serious as 'serious' TV - the traditional stuff that critics like, like unfunny comedies, stuffy, long winded documentaries with high brow topics and 'hard-hitting' drama. RTV is lumped in with soaps, game shows, comedies with jokes rather than ironic commentaries on the nature of humour and it's relationship to the social fabric of an increasingly fragmented society, and melodrama as fodder for the uneducated, non-Media Studies degree qualified masses.
But lots of RTV is fun and entertaining, and in the best cases touching and intelligent. What I am addicted to is the simplicity of the narratives. Person wants to be a singer - person achieves their impossible dream, person with two left feet becomes, against all the odds, an accomplished dancer, naughty child turns into good child. Done well these shows can be quite compelling.
My favourites are the redemption shows. Once I watch one, I often find myself rooting for the characters and wanting, sometimes, desperately, them to to succeed. Recently I have watched Bad Lads Army, That'll Teach em, Evacuation, Ballet-hoo, Beauty and The Geek, and several others. The Saturday Night Reality season is upon us. X factor goes head to head with Strictly Come Dancing. SCD wins, and it wins because they realise that the story is the thing. Each Saturday show is accompanied by a daily dose - a half hour show that follows the couples behind the scenes and explores all the facets of their training, tantrums and triumphs. By the end of the run, you feel that you kind of know these remote celebrities. And d'you know what? The ones that do well are just normal people who work hard.
The best reality shoe for me is Brat Camp. Unruly and out of control teenagers are taken to a camp in the middle of Utah and retrained by hard work, self reliance and asceticism. It's kind of like Transcendentalist training for the terminally delinquent. As a school teacher I recognise the delinquents. They are just like the ones I deal with everyday. And the show captures the experience that teachers have. Over the course of just a few episodes you begin to see that underneath the horrid brattish exteriors are scared children. In the classroom you know you have cracked it with a certain student when you can get a joke, a smile or a secret out of them. Pace Herman, the damaged boy whom after making my life hell for several months with his disruptive and abusive antics, came and asked me advice about how to stop his brother from bullying him and stealing his stuff. I couldn't help really, but the ice was broken. I told him to ask for a lock on his room door - and he was grateful for this simple advice that anyone could have given. It gave him a little control over his life. Or Lottie, the aggressive, mouthy handful of a girl who was gradually destroying everyones' patience and in three years slipped from the top end of achievement to the very bottom. During one particularly nasty shouting fit (she shouting at me, for what I forget) I told her she was pretty when she smiled. That appears to be all that was needed, someone to say something nice about her. As with Grace, she was suffering from step-child syndrome - her father was gone and the new dad had his own daughter to dote over. Lottie just needed some positive attention from an adult - any adult. After that things went on the up for me and Lottie. Within a few weeks she was shushing the class for me and even finishing the odd piece of writing. I saw Lottie the other day, walking down the street scowling. It made me laugh as I drove past
Brat Camp manages to show this journey. We see hardened aggressive teenagers melt a little and grow younger (like Jennie Greavie from series 2 pictured above). It's always a front, a crust grown over pain and low self esteem. The latest series widens the story. Parents accompany their unruly brats and. even though I've only seen episode 1, it is pretty clear that the parents are possibly even more problematic than the kids.
The reality shows that I can't handle are the ones that set out to humiliate or to behave like a freakshow. Big Brother, for example, grows ever more prurient and charmless. It also has no story. The characters don't develop. Essentially they are characters in search of an author. They are basically made to do nothing apart from the occasional task designed to strip away their dignity. They say that drama is real life with the boring bits cut out, Big Brother is like real life with the interesting bits cut out.
Like taking bad drugs.