I have a weird relationship with reality shows. When I was in middle school, my mom would watch The Bachelor and I would wander past, trying not to be interested but achingly curious as to who would receive a rose. The idea of finding love on a show watched by millions seemed silly to me, but the unorthodox method was interesting nonetheless.
When I played basketball in high school, our weekly team dinners fell on Thursday, and as a form of high-school-girls-who-have-a-sport-but-maybe-not-much-else-in-common bonding we would watch Jersey Shore together. Now, I know that if I want to be taken seriously in any way I’m supposed to hate Jersey Shore, but I became fascinated with watching the show for evidence of it being a show – I figured out where the cameras in the house were, and used this information to judge what the cast members where trying to hide from the cameras and thus determined what parts were probably scripted or not …
Reality shows are silly, mostly. They’re entertainment in the most basic sense of the word – they are entertaining to watch. Especially when you’re playing Figure Out Why MTV Cut Away From The Scene At That Moment! It was while I was watching through this critical TV-detective lens that I found myself suddenly feeling a tiny bit of mindless enjoyment that didn’t stem from my Nancy Drew games. I started to like the shows.
I haven’t had time to watch a reality show in a while, but my cousin was on an MTV reality show, FriendZone. I got curious and found the episode online. The show is defined as such on its website:
Long-standing friendships will be tested as individuals try to navigate their way from best-friendship to relationship. What happens when you ask your best friend to help you prepare for an upcoming blind date… only to later reveal that the date is actually intended for the two of you! Will the feelings be mutual… or will your friendship be ruined forever?
But, man. Watching that show was difficult. Had it been the usual situation of watching strangers display their lives from a huge distance, it would have probably been slightly entertaining and not utterly heart-wrenching. This was my cousin, not just some stranger that I’d never meet or have to worry about again! When his best friend came over to help him prepare for his “blind date,” she entered through a door I recognized. When my cousin was let down, his face took on a sad expression I’ve seen on other faces in the family all of my life. Suddenly, the show was real. Too real.
The production aspects didn’t interest me as much as they usually do. I noticed they cut off the audio at one point when one of them was referring to the cameras, but it didn’t break the fourth wall enough for me to feel protected by this “reality show detachment” I used to feel while watching Jersey Shore or The Bachelor. I knew the guy on the screen. I knew he was real. And now that I knew he was real, I knew that other people on the other reality shows were also real.
Maybe (probably) some of them ham it up for the camera and possible fame. But maybe some of them don’t. Maybe some of them are just like you and me. I think it is important to keep that in mind next time I watch someone sobbing on a screen and detachedly wonder why the cameraman is not visible in the mirror behind them.