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    Volume 8 Issue 78 | July 17, 2009 |

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Reality Bites Hurt Less on Television

By Shayera Moula

The sudden passing away of Michael Jackson, only weeks before his most anticipated comeback, has shocked the world to the core. Millions have dived into their old stacks of music collection and others flooded music stores to get hold of Jackon's best numbers. What has the music channels we have access to done? (And remember, the percentage of those with access to MTV International is low in Bangladesh.)

As depressing as it was to swallow the news about Michael Jackson's death, it felt just as bad to rely on The Larry King Show, where it was all about interviews, to remember what a great Legend Michael Jackson really was, and will always be. There is a reason why the genre "music" exists as a separate channel. They are meant to play music. They are meant to entertain us with the latest hitlist and charts on which artists are in and who are out.

But with time, we can see that there are hardly any songs on these music channels anymore. Gossip on movie stars and Reality TV shows on various competitions glare back at you as you switch from one music channel to another in search for some ear-enticing melody. These shows which are suppose to air once a week, and perhaps have one re-run, are being run everyday, during the day, during the afternoon, at night - well, all the time really. Where has all the music gone?

Reality TV shows have been taking over the media, where the debate on how real or manipulated they really are seems to provoke viewers all the more to remain entertained by them. The truth about these "reality shows" is that they are false. J. Rupert Thompson, a director and producer who places shows like "Big Brother" and "Fear Factor" in his list of success states: "Reality TV is a very manipulated format where the basis of it is that real people are put into unreal situations to create a story." So the idea is to place normal people, and not actors, on a "staged" show, which means that what the viewers are really connecting to is not a "real life scenario" but to the "real reactions" to a certain scenario.

Ray Richmond, a television critic for the Hollywood Reporter, said that he has wanted to switch the term "reality television" to "partially scripted television" for the longest time, which of course makes more sense. The truth of the matter is that reality shows actually shoot many more hours of footage than what can be shown in a 30- or 60-minute programme, leaving editors to chop and paste selected footage in order to manipulate a drama. How else would it be exciting? Richmond also says, "The editors have grown to become the new storytellers, altering sequences and the course of events and contextual elements to weave together a story that's radically different from what went down."

Classic examples include the ridiculous images of contestants on 'Survivor' starving to death while we all know about the great munchies for the hardworking production team lying just outside the camera range. How cruel is the director really, right?

Then there is the one that came on New York Daily News about how the judges of American Idol 2009 had already chosen the final four (Danny Gokey, Lil Rounds, Adam Lambert and Alexis Grace) without the viewer's votes. Which means that the audience actually means squat to the show. And even though Alexis Grace was eliminated just a week later, many agree that this was bound to happen in order to prove the media wrong.

Two things are achieved from Reality TV shows. First of all, viewers can feel a sense of accomplishment to find one of themselves fulfil great hopes and dreams and secondly, and in contradiction, many can actually feel good about themselves for not being as outrageously cruel or shameless in public as those shown on these shows. A homemaker sitting on her couch can finally feel relieved to know that she is so much more organised, and in control than the one shown on Wife-Swap. A sense of guilt is removed and finely replaced with a sense of pride.

Other negative impacts of reality television shows include the depiction of violence and language, which is not only distorting reality and naming it "real" but is also encouraging young viewers to watch dangerous stunts, messy love stories and dating shows, that warp their idea of the way it would work in real life. These ideas of materialism versus beauty or foul language equals to more power are false notions, and teenagers around the world are taking it all in very lightly. They are bound to believe it and replay it in their own lives.

So, may be music channels should really stick to being what they were originally meant to be. Air some good songs, show off great videos from around the world and play us the tune we have been missing out on. At least we know that the images and ideas shown in music videos are not representations of the real world.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2009