When "Reality" Gets Real

My Problem with “reality” television is that most shows seem to lack “self”-awareness.

What do I mean?

“Time Out!”

Some of my favorite sit-coms growing up were those in which the characters occasionally made reference to the fact that they were on a television show. Sometimes on the Fresh Prince, Will Smith would talk to the camera. Sometimes Zack Morris would stop time on Saved by the Bell. I appreciate the subtle acknowledgment made by a television show or a movie that it knows it’s being made for entertainment, because there’s nothing worse than something ridiculous (which the entertainment industry is) taking itself too seriously.

I never watched The Real World, but I have read Chuck Klosterman. He once wrote an essay[1] in which he discussed the fact that during Season 3, Puck was acutely aware that he was on a television show where everyone else pretended that the cameras weren’t there. The producers didn’t like it, which is unfortunate, albeit expected, because the only thing real about The Real World is the cameras.

I know the point of “reality” shows is to fuel our voyeuristic tendencies. But, to pretend that locking people in a house or deserting them on an island and making them play ridiculous games in order to win cash prizes is “real”? Well, it doesn’t fool me. The people who go on these shows want to be famous. They are caricatures, not authentically acting individuals.

Reality competition/game shows are almost worse, because they feed the delusion that being famous or recognizable is important. No one really goes on the Bachelor to find true love. Shows that require actual talent are a bit more tolerable, but you still get the feeling that the contestants were chosen based on looks and persona and not their talent.

“You are a powerful and attractive man.”

One of the only “reality” shows I enjoy is Gene Simmons Family Jewels, because it doesn’t try to be completely real. I have no doubt that the personalities displayed by the Simmons’ family are real, but the situations are sometimes contrived.

I like that.

I don’t like feeling duped.

Anyway, I don’t need to watch “reality,” I live it.


[1] “What Happens When People Stop Being Polite” in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, (pp.26-40).

What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear

Pandora Internet Radio is a fantastic creation.[1] You enter a song or a band you like and they will play that band and then offer you other songs by similar sounding artists.  You can approve songs or outright reject them.  It’s a great way to hear new music and to listen to a radio station that plays music tailored to your tastes.  It chooses songs based on your preferences and selects similar songs according to what the song sounds like, supposedly taking into account “everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony.”  The “Music Genome Project” as they call it is actually quite ingenious.

It has, however, one tragic flaw.  It does not know why you like the songs you like.

Just because I like the sound of one folksy singer-songwriter does not mean I like every folksy singer-songwriter that sounds exactly the same.  Just because I like one album or even one song by an artist does not mean that I like their entire collection.  Take Coldplay, for instance.  I love “The Scientist” and I even have a soft spot for “Yellow,” but even though every Coldplay song sounds exactly the same, I do not like the rest of their discography.[2] So I end up rejecting songs that, based on their sound, I should like.

This realization got me thinking about an article of Chuck Klosterman’s.  He is one of my favorite writers, comical and poignant, but most importantly, unapologetically music-loving.  He wrote this article about how ridiculous the question “What kind of music do you like?” is, and proceeded to dissect his own answer were he to take the question seriously.  And the answer to this question is precisely what Pandora tries to take into account, but fails to really get to the heart of.

Well, in Chuck fashion, here is my answer to the question:

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