Saturday, 26 November 2011

Ugly bite of truth

I once mused about Keats' poem which ends, 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty...' I don't know why, but it has always been so perplexing to me, what he meant. In my post I argued perhaps it was the transparency of truth which was beautiful. Or the mastery we feel by the orderliness of knowing what is what and all is in its place. I am old enough to remember the very first series of Big Brother. I hadn't watched a single episode, but for some reason I caught the very last moments of the final. It was Craig (I think? erm, the one who pledged to give it all away to a sick child, anyway.) Watching the moment a 'nobody' becomes a 'somebody' - the 'nobody' cocooned inside a house like a mole, then with a bolt, emerging to a deafening applause; tears, money, fame - who could fail to be moved? Of course as this was the very first series and Big Brother was an unknown concept, this was a genuine evolution which one might argue has been lost since. Reality TV has now become a fixture on our TV schedules, and it is this sense of going on a journey with our protagonist which gives such joy. However, albeit that this concept has long been uncovered and subsequently manipulated, don't let the audience know that! The anger at being duped and taken advantage of is unparalleled, and the very opposite of "truth, beauty."

I wanted to touch on two programmes in the light of this: 'Keeping Up with the Kardashians', and 'The Only Way is Essex'. Both place great store in glamour and offset this with the license which gives them carte blanche: a close family and friends consciousness. I have only caught the odd episode of Keeping Up... but I get the impression that if you've seen one, you've seen them all. The pattern seems to be, some minor disaster (invariably relating to looks or object) followed by making up and realising family comes first (as long as said car/ dress/ hair/ event has been restored in the interim.) The Only Way... is more lighthearted - in that for legal reasons, the introduction clarifies, 'Some scenes have been set up purely for your entertainment.' It subsequently amounts to little more than a badly-acted soap at times, but that is its charm. The appeal of these programmes is to watch as 'nobodies', representing us the everyman, transform and develop into famous 'characters'. But with a meritocracy, the bad side is all the more bitter. At least in a caste system one knows one's place and can blame fate; in a meritocracy, jealousy becomes uncontrollable and failing becomes personal. Hence reality TV will always fall in harm's way.

Recently two of the characters from The Only Way... were attacked. The attack happened in the middle of a season, therefore the attackers became a part of the plot. The characters were featured nursing their wounds, and showed their battered backs to magazines, shared their experience in interviews, and went on to hire minders for future outings. Thus the attackers by proxy were able to indulge in some infamy for themselves.

And Keeping Up... has now been unmasked as a potentially very cynical business. Perez Hilton, the ultimate blogger, tweeted that as a gay man the fact that the sanctity of marriage was so callously thrown aside, was an insult to those who were banned from marriage. Kim Kardashian's 72 day marriage, which obviously represented a huge episode and driving theme for many other episodes, looked like nothing more than a charade. Fans who had wept (yes apparently) to think of their Kim finding her prince (yes really) felt violated. The emotions invested were scattered and the 'cast' have now found themselves defending the reality of their reality show. As this article explains, "People can deal with the wedding being over the top, but to do that and get divorced 72 days later, that is hard to swallow in this economy. When people are struggling to pay bills and rent, it doesn't make average people feel much compassion."

In summary, is this a variation of schadenfreude? You can look beautiful and go to great parties, as long as I can have a hand in ripping you down just at the point when you feel invincible. For reputation, even in this media-controlled age, as the Leveson Inquiry is proving, is sacred. The media wield so much power, and every 'reality' TV 'character', even a subject from the news already suffering untold sorrow, is enslaved by it. Reputation cannot easily be bought, and once lost it is impossible to ever fully restore. As the quote goes, "O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial." However, in an age where making a sex-tape is the starting point from which your fame springs, does the quality of your fame/ notoriety matter at all? "I thought you had received some bodily wound; there is more offence in that than in reputation. Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving: you have lost no reputation at all..."


  1. I've never seen a single episode of "Keeping up" and yet I seem to know way too much about that family!

    Have you seen the documentary , "Joan Rivers, a Piece of Work"? I just watched it last night, so a lot of these topics are fresh on my mind. You might find it interesting because it deals with a lot of the issues you wrote about in this post. It includes scenes about her work on a reality TV show (Celebrity Apprentice) as well as a play that she wrote about her life. And of course lots of discussion about her plastic surgery, fame, and her public image and that of her daughter, who often works with her and was also part of the reality show.

  2. haha yes good point! well I will look out for that as Joan Rivers is rather captivating in her honesty! xx

  3. Your in depth knowledge of all thing literary freaks me out! Will you sit my exams?! Can't stand the Kardashians. I find my intelligence insulted if I watch their show. Bigger world issues to deal with.

  4. Ah Karyn I love that you are being so brave going for teaching! I would help you with pleasure haha thanks for that! A few too many lit quotes here oops - but when in doubt, turn to Shakespeare eh? I can't wait to hear how you get on xxxx