Content Warning: child abuse, torture, racism
Reality – it’s a funny word. I mean, what is reality?
Now I’m not being all pretentious here, sitting in a room with a bunch of people trying to make others feel inferior by quoting from books and going “Well it’s frightfully post-modern, dah-ling.” Ah, I’ve never gone in for that kind of intellectual capitalism, after all. Pretentious? Who’s pretending? No, I’m seriously asking, here: what is “reality”?!
I ask because I keep seeing these peculiar programs called “reality” shows – on the few occasions when I do actually watch that little brainwashing device called television.
We’ve had The Simple Life, with good-for-nothing jailbird Paris Hilton; Temptation Island, where attached people were put on an island to test their loyalty and tempt their loins; The Osbournes, about an infamous family whose lives were very different to our humdrum existence; Pop Idol, where members of the public badly sang cover songs in the hopes of being the latest manufactured pop tart; Hogan Knows Best, which followed the jacked-up, orange-tinged has-been Hulk Hogan; and, most famous of all, Big Brother, which involved, as Billy Connelly put it, “people sitting in a house watching people sitting in a house!” There are many, many more. The latter had a celebrity version which became best known for Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty subjected to racist abuse at the hands of “housemate” Jade Goody (who had become famous for…well, being famous – since she stole the show on the original version of Big Brother in 2002; she didn’t even win).
The Shilpa Shetty-Jade Goody controversy was started by a strange incident where – at the same time nobody made much of a fuss over ballet dancer Simone Clarke moving in more middle class circles whilst joining the fascist British National Party – Jade verbally attacked Shilpa for being a star out-of-touch with the working class Indian and Pakistani population of Britain. It’s likely that producers behind the show placed the stars together knowing that, sooner or later, buttons would be pushed between Shilpa, a sensitive and articulate actor and model with wealth, and Jade, a working class mutton-dressed-as-lamb who probably thought she was open-minded about race simply because she had…a “coloured telly.”
Celebrity Big Brother producers also edited-out of the time-delay “live” broadcast none other than firebrand politician George Galloway’s anti-war comments being supported by his fellow contestants – as Prime Minister Tony Blair was continuing to send troops into the Middle East, where hundreds of thousands have been mass murdered.
So what is this “reality” they speak of? Press coverage of Madeleine McCann – the British toddler kidnapped from a hotel room in Portugal whilst her middle class parents had left her in bed to go out on the town and drink fine wine – largely took priority over Iraq, Tony Blair’s resignation, climate change, and even made headlines overseas. Heck, as pointed out by my partner (who happens to be the best mother there can be, to her two children), with this much heat on them, the abductors are increasingly inclined to just “off” the poor little kid.
But around 77,000 kids go missing in Britain every year, yet the mainstream media rammed this story down our throats so much that I was waiting for our man Billy Connelly to speak the unspeakable and scream – as he did with the videos of Iraq hostage Kenneth Bigley – “Don’t you wish they’d just get on with it?!“
Sick, you say? That’s sick, huh? Wow. The spectrum of sickness has changed completely, and the criteria seems upside-down, in a world where the McCann parents’ progress is the top news story. Then they left their kids behind again – yet this time in the company of adults – whilst they went to visit the Pope. Whoo, the Pope! Maybe they expected he might have their kid; perhaps they thought little Maddy might emerge from beneath his robe or something, I don’t know. But it might even be fair to indeed wish they’d just get on with it; we’re told the harrowing ordeal of these poor pathetic parents, their daily anguish made into another form of reality programming for us to watch, whilst knowing what the likely outcome will be, our morbid curiosity keeping us buying the newspapers and switching the channels. We’re watching this – not, I suppose, our own children, who then become potential fodder for another “reality” news saga in the process.
TV is the placebo of a population. This story of a kidnapped toddler, this “news,” does not affect any single one of us. It has been latched onto with as much passion – and has as much relevance – as the “Free Deirdre” campaign when the Coronation Street character was imprisoned; the absolutely pathetic and sad Sun paper keeping that in the “news,” too. In fact, we had more control over what happened to Deirdre than we do with Madeleine.
Now here’s the revelation for you. Are you ready for it? Okay then: the true reason for the emphasis on such stories as the McCann ordeal that make us feel helpless is…wait for it, now…the helplessness itself! Ha, ha!
Yep, it’s perfect for the powers that be; from war criminal politicians like Tony Blair to tax-avoiding media moguls like Rupert Murdoch. Why? Because it’s something we can do absolutely nothing about – except stay tuned, buy the papers, fear our neighbours, hate those Portuguese bastards, and purchase products for some retail therapy. That’s it! That’s the real reason, right there! Sorry to give it away, folks, but studying and working in the media for so long has this strange way of, you know, giving me an insight to these kinds of things – being in the belly of the beast, you might call it.
But hey, you can just go ahead and call it cynicism. That’s what The Sun wants you to believe, it’s what Sky want you to believe; that empire of Rupert Murdoch – New Labour donor and MySpace owner. Let’s all just go back to scouring the many MySpace mirror-shot photos for hours on end and uploading our Find Maddy pictures. Let’s all go back to sleep, and dream of all the entire world’s problems being solved by the discovery of one missing child; let’s dream of being Paris Hilton who, unlike Jade Goody, was born into wealth and is therefore forever untouchable, with a life so privileged even her prison sentence is comfortable.
Speaking of prisons, you know what? Maybe I’ll accept defeat and play along. So stay with me here – I have a great idea for a reality show of my own! It’s called “Guantanamo Baywatch”! It’s simple: The producers snatch unsuspecting taxi drivers with dark skin from cities such as Leicester, and take them on a rendition flight trip of a lifetime – to sunny Cuba! “Ooooh, ahhhh.” That’s right, viewers! Once there, they’re forced to do funny outdoor activities, shackled, and even tortured. This is drama! Which wimp will crack first and say they’re an Al Qaeda terrorist just to make it all stop? Who gets voted off the show, leading to death by firing squad? Ooh, it’s exciting stuff! The torture can include such things as being forced to stand for hours on end, sleep deprivation…and the playing of Christina Aguilera CDs! (This could even include a merchandising tie-in with her albums, too, wow) The show can also feature a Donald Trump-type star-power presence in the form of another Donald: Rumsfeld, who, when personally approving torture methods at Abu Ghraib prison, actually stated, “I stand for eight to ten hours a day. Why is standing only limited to four hours?” Hey, now that’s a guy who’d be tough on any apprentice. Get that man on TV and make him a star along with the rest of the wretched refuse!
Hmm. On second thought, I’m not so sure this reality show idea of mine would work, you know. Yeah, it’s a little too close to, well…reality! And things like rendition flights, torture, and even war itself kind of require us to switch off the TV and do something about it, huh. Guess we’re stuck with Madeleine McCann and Big Brother. All under the watchful eye of big brother itself, as, sedated by the bollocks in the media, we slowly sleepwalk into a surveillance society…
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