April 18, 2012

TV debate hosted by BAFTA

I learnt something about myself last night, and that was, I LOVE a debate.

It’s an atmosphere whereby you can challenge, agree, ponder, opinionate and participate in discussions that ultimately do not ever come to a complete conclusion, because really there is no right or wrong answer in an open debate. The buzz comes from not knowing where the conversation will go, what people will bring to the table and what will make you sway. It’s exciting as it goes from being light-hearted to quite suddenly very heated, with people fighting over the microphone for air-time.

This is how I would describe last night’s event hosted by BAFTA with the focus on the question: ‘Is structed reality corrupting documentary? that had a top selection of panelists from the industry. There was Molly Dineen (BAFTA Award-winning documentary filmmaker), Claire Faragher (executive producer The Only Way is Essex series 1 and 2)
and Brian Hill (Managing Director Century Films).

The reason I felt the need to write a blog post about this event actually comes from my feelings of being slightly unfinished with one of the points I made last night. I’m paraphrasing but I asked the panel this question:

“Young people are influenced by reality TV programmes (such as The Only Way is Essex) and could easily get confused between what is real and what is scripted. Should TV companies take a little more responsibility in being transparent about where the lines are blurred?”

Brian Hill, however, got a little defensive. He called me ‘wrong’ twice. He said that broadcasters should not underestimate their audiences and that people can “spot a fake a mile off”.

My answer back, was that I would disagree with statement. Obviously all of the people in that room know that TV programs are created to entertain audiences and capitalize on a mass interest in the portrayal of a stereotypical society. But I’m not talking about the people who are priviledged to be in that room, I’m talking about wide and vast audience. I thought it was ridiculous for such an assumption to be made that everyone must ‘just know’ that this stuff is fake. At the current age of 22, it wasn’t that long ago that I was at an impressionable teen-age where I used to watch programs like The Hills, Laguna Beach, Living on the Edge, The Apprentice and so on. And guess what. Yes, for some time, I thought what I was viewing was real.

Out of interest, I asked my friends if they ever thought the programs were real when they were younger – they all agreed with me. Obviously now I know they’re not real. Now I know that some poor intern probably cuts up footage in a Channel 4 editing room, that they pick the best bits, that they have a storyboard they want to stick to, that the lighting is set to depict a mood and that these ‘real people’ are just playing up to the camera and exploited by producers for a lowly wage. But this information only becomes available once you grow out of it.

TV in the digital age means it is not a standalone platform any more. People tweet before watching, whilst watching, after watching, people search for character names and follow their personal lives via social media. They read online news stories about these characters, they buy books on them, they buy clothing ranges by them. As they follow these TV stars in real life, and can see some things cross over in their real lives and their TV lives, I think it becomes increasingly difficult to, as Brian puts it, ‘spot a fake a mile away’. In fact, I reiterate that the TV companies should take some responsibility in reminding us all how far this is entertainment and how much is real.

Because when you are responsible for getting into the minds of impressionable people who might want to be like these TV stars, especially when the programmes are promoting cosmetic surgery, glamorizing modelling careers, cheating, swearing and how it’s easy to get rich by being unintelligent, at least give your audiences a little bit of respect by being honest about how ‘fake’ your reality documentaries are.

me, Hannah & Polly last night

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