Realism and Television

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Question : Discuss realism by considering a television program that has

realistic qualities. In your discussion specifically refer to Chapter 14 of the

textbook, ‘Documentary and “reality TV”’, by Branston and Stafford (2006).

Realism plays an important role in the success of a good television program. The

ability to relate and appeal to the senses of the target audience is an essential

characteristic of any media form. This essay explores how realism is perceived in

television today with reference to both reality and documentary genres of

television. The remainder of the essay will present a case study of a television

program which demonstrates realistic qualities.

What is Realism?

It has been argued that we are living in a ‘postdocumentary’ culture, a time of

talk shows, reality t.v, game shows and the persuasion of celebrity (Branston,

Stafford 2006: 455). When we refer to ‘realism’ within the context of television it

conjures up a multitude of meanings. For example, realism may indicate that the

program is ‘realistic’ because of the subject matter, like that of a documentary.

Moreover, a television program could be considered ‘realistic’ because it features

unscripted ordinary people in contrived situations, like Big Brother. One thing is

certain, realism, or the illusion of realism, is very prevalent in television today.

Reality tv? Distorted Realism…

Flick on the television during peak times on a week night and it’s pretty difficult

to avoid reality television. From home makeovers to celebrity fit clubs, the

popularity with ‘so called’ reality television is astounding. But is reality tv just

another highly produced product of the culture industry?  More often that not,

these reality programs are highly constructed to attract viewers. As Andrejevic

questions, “Why is Reality tv pretending that it’s real, so that we may cannily

believe it’s phony, when it accurately portrays the reality of contrivance in

contemporary society?”(Andrejevic 2004). These programs are clearly not an

accurate representation of how most people live. It seems the message of reality

television is that ordinary people can become so significant that millions of

people will watch them, and as a result, ordinary people are considered potential

media stars. Ordinary people watch these programs, see people like

themselves and imagine that they too could become celebrities by being on

television (Reiss 2001). This is evident by the large number of reality tv stars that

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have gone on to have careers in the media. For example, Elizabeth Hassleback

from the first series of the reality tv program Survivor is now a co-host of the

popular talk show in the US “The View”. ‘Reality tv’, definitely has it’s fair share

of critics. It has been blamed of damaging our youth’s perception of what reality

truly means, even going to the extent of accusing it of being and abusive and

exploitative of children in shows like, ‘Wifeswap’ and ‘Trading Spouses’ (Schlessinger  2004).

The perception of what is fact and fiction in regards ...

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