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You don’t have to look hard to see how far the influence of reality TV has spread to culture in general. Many contestants and reality TV attendees have become famous (or infamous) cultural figures. And intentionally or not, reality shows mirror society, disentangling major social and political issues. While politics and culture have always been closely linked, reality TV host becomes president of the United States brought this dynamic to a new level.

These are just a few of the many factors that make reality TV an art form worthy of careful dissection and scholarship, which is the guiding principle of “ShowA new podcast on the history of reality TV. Created and hosted by Mariah Smith, each episode delves into a pivotal genre series, including shows like “The Real World,” “Survivor” and “The Bachelor,” with help from guests such as cultural journalists and artists. critics, entertainment and media specialists, as well as some of the producers and competitors of these shows.

A writer and comedian in Los Angeles, Smith is a voracious consumer and reality TV watcher. For years, she wrote a blog for The Cut of New York Magazine analyzing the continuity errors on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” (titled “Track Kontinuity errorsShe was also the producer of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live,” so she looked at the genre from many angles.

What makes reality TV such a fascinating source of analysis is that every show “really reflects the time we’re in,” she said in an interview. “Every show – from the most ridiculous, like ‘Flavor of Love’, to the most serious, like celebrities following their genealogy, shows like this – is a time capsule of the society as it stood at the time. -the.”

Through the lens of reality TV, especially long-form shows, you can watch everything from the TV industry to society in general transform before your eyes. For example, an episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” from 2007, the year it was created, is very different from an episode from 2020, Smith said.

While most episodes of “The Show” delve deeply into a famous show from the 1990s or 2000s, the first episode features a show less familiar to modern reality TV viewers: “An American Family” from 1973, a PBS of 12 episodes. docuseries that have become a model for modern reality TV shows. It was meant to be a series of life slices about an upper-middle-class California couple, Pat and Bill Loud, and their five children. But he continued to capture plenty of dramatic moments, especially for the 1970s, such as the couple deciding to divorce and their eldest son who went gay.

At the time of its release, the series was very polarizing and has not been widely available since (although PBS did have a few previews online and re-aired the series in 2011, when the story behind the making of the show was adapted. in an HBO film: “Cinema Verité”, with Diane Lane and Tim Robbins as Louds). As Smith explains in the podcast episode, viewers in the ’70s weren’t used to seeing what we now understand as mainstream reality TV tactics: investing viewers deeply in surprising and intimate, mounted moments. set from hours and hours of footage and extract for maximum drama.

From there, “Show” is structured chronologically around shows that build on what came before and have shaped today’s vast reality TV landscape. Episode 2 is about MTV’s “The Real World”, whose creators were directly inspired by “An American Family,” taking the model of following the most intimate moments of a family and applying it to a group. foreigners. Episodes 3 and 4 concern respectively “Survivor” and “The Bachelor”. The former created an easily replicable and financially viable formula for reality TV shows. The latter contains much of the same DNA as “Survivor”, trading the tribal council for the rose ceremony.

Upcoming episodes of “The Show,” which premiere every Wednesday, will cover “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” the “Real Housewives” franchise, “90 Day Fiancé” and “The Great British Bake Off,” Smith said.

One of the strengths of the podcast is to illustrate what these shows say about our society. The episode “Survivor” shows listeners how the long-running competition series reflects the tribalism of American politics, especially in some of its most infamous seasons, such as when it divided the candidates based on their class. (“Survivor: Worlds Apart”) or race (“Survivor: Cook Islands”).

You really see how people can turn from humans to monsters pretty quickly. This is, for me, what we still see today in politics, like what we saw in the insurgency.
Mariah Smith, host of “Spectacle”, explains what “Survivor” says about tribalism in politics

Smith, who hadn’t watched the show much before watching it a lot for the podcast, said she was captivated by how “ it takes what I loved about reality TV – like, throw strangers in an environment – but that takes away all of the material things around it.

“You really see how people can turn from humans to monsters pretty quickly. This is, for me, what we still see today in politics, like what we saw in the insurgency, ”she said. “You see how quick and easy it is for your mind to go from everyday human mode to survival mode, and try to do what you think is right – even if it’s, you know, objectively false. “

The podcast also explores how these shows were simultaneously revolutionary for their time, while perpetuating offensive stereotypes and tropes. For example, the early seasons of “The Real World” made waves for candidly addressing issues such as race, gender, gender identity, and class. However, the show’s producers have often done so in deeply manipulative, cynical, and awkward ways.

Smith’s fascination with reality TV began at an early age, starting with the coverage of MTV’s Spring Break, which led her to watch “The Real World” and its sister show “Road Rules”.

“When I was growing up my parents always told me, ‘You can learn from any type of media,’ she said. “No matter what it was, even if it was spring break or something a little more sophisticated, we would talk about these shows and dissect them like they were artifacts. cultural. “

At first glance, reality TV shows can often be silly and over the top, and many have become objects of rejection and mockery. Many fans today know that many “reality” shows are usually the result of a lot of artifice and staging. As “Show” indicates, these behind-the-scenes choices have implications far beyond the universe of the shows themselves – making them endlessly fascinating subjects for cultural analysis.


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