Reality farce

November 25th, 2009

Marketing guru Jack Trout aptly called it the ‘tyranny of choice’. You visit a superstore to buy something specific but invariably come out with more stuff than you really need or can handle, simply because the merchandise displayed on the shelves screams at you in various colours in order to grab your attention. So many goodies, don’t know what to buy, so let me pick up as much as my pocket allows. Fine, but you soon find out that half the stuff is worth less than a quarter of what was paid to acquire it.

Pretty much the same with television these days, isn’t it? I’m talking of the garbage that has given itself a fancy nomenclature — Reality shows. So much of, ahem, reality happening on the idiot box, you just can’t figure out how to insult your intelligence. If money limited your choices at the superstore, the remote control does that in the drawing room.

Take one of the more recent and, the more “top-of-the mind”, Rakhi Ka Swayamvar. Can’t imagine how NDTV Imagine pulled off a 6.3 TVR when the grand finale was aired. Surely, viewers weren’t so dumb as to believe she was going to tie the knot. Was the sheer excitement of watching an in-the-news-for-all-the-wrong-reasons ‘item girl’ garland an egg-faced businessman called Elesh Parunjanwala too tempting, then? How much more fun watching the ‘newly-weds’ cope with the challenges and frustrations of married life in full public view?

Not to be outdone, another reality farce, Pati Patni Aur Woh, merrily plagiarises from international show Baby Borrowers to show the pains, pangs and pleasures of parenthood from childbirth to adolescence.

Which pea-brained girl would ever vie for alleged wife-basher and dope-downer Rahul Mahajan as a husband? Yet the man whose actual marriage ended in a controversial and well-publicised divorce had 15,000, yes, 15,000 results thrown up on google for Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jayenge — that’s a cool 40 per cent more than Rakhi ka Swayamvar.

Reality doesn’t always dwell on oomph or scandal value as in Sawant and Mahajan.
Hero Honda Dadagiri 2 thrives on the bizarre to grab eyeballs. Contestants are made to do outrageously filthy /dangerous things such as digging out coins from a heap of hot coals, gobbling insects and dunking themselves in a barrel full of glue. All through the ordeal, they are abused and hooted at by the hosts. The losers don’t just forgo the Rs 10 lakh prize money but also suffer the ignominy of having dung smeared on their faces. A friend who is a part of the production team once told me, “Our team will be happy if someone actually dies while doing these odd jobs.”

The much hyped Sach Ka Saamna, an adaptation of the world-famous reality show ‘Moment of Truth’ ended abruptly on September 18 because of numerous controversies. The show came under the scrutiny of the Parliament for coercing contestants to wash the dirty linen in public for a top prize Rs 1 crore, which nobody eventually got. 

If UK has Big Brother, we’re not far behind with Big Boss 3. Wasn’t it fun damaging your sensibilities watching self-proclaimed actor, director and writer (haha), Kamal Khan trying to hog the limelight, flaunting his wealth, riding rough shod over co-contestants and finally getting booted out a la Jade Goody?  I know, I know, he back. Big deal. Anyways, this show too walked into trouble with the satraps at the I&B Ministry for ‘offending good taste’ and using vulgar language.

My guess is reality shows catch your fancy for being out-of-the-ordinary, not extraordinary. They invariably fail to create a long-term impact as they are remembered not for their concept (which is stale and often borrowed) but for the numerous controversies they brew. An overdose of reality shows and the eventual saturation is lost on the channels as they race to garner as much TRPs as they can, longevity be damned.

News channels too have joined the bandwagon as they give, and most probably get paid for, minute-by-minute update of these shows on their channel.

Unfortunately, there is a huge psychological downside to this brand of entertainment. Sixteen-year old Shinjini Sengupta, a class-XI student of Kolkata turned into a vegetable after she was shown the door in the elimination round of a show on a Bengali channel.
In extreme cases viewers begin to identify themselves with the participants, as was the case with a 32-year-old woman who committed suicide after watching the final episode of Sach ka Saamna. There were also news reports of couples who started doubting the fidelity of their spouses after only watching, and not participating in, this show.
Worse, these shows have now begun enticing children to participate and parents are only too eager to see their wards on the idiot box for the fame and money they can bring.

The bottom line is that if you get a raw deal at the superstore, at the very worst, you won’t go there again and probably dissuade your friends from patronizing it too. Reality shows, on the other hand, work like opium. You know they’re bad, you know some legitimize sleaze, you know others encourage peeping-tom tendencies, but you still watch. Worse still, that is exactly why you watch.
 

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