Reality shows are good for society

Reality TV in Germany : Your life - our television

Badly dressed, loudly screaming people arguing about relationships, family secrets, or money; Adopted children who tearfully hug their biological parents for the first time; Mothers who switch families; Debt counselors listing savings options on a blackboard; Junk dealers looking for marketable items in piles of rubbish; ugly people or farmers looking for partners; Overweight people trying to lose weight; Designers ironically commenting on women's clothing purchases and makeup; Craftsmen renovating houses; the luxury life of millionaire families, successful or unsuccessful attempts to emigrate. And even this seemingly endless chain of examples of reality that so-called Reality TV presents to viewers every day could be continued even further.

The form of television entertainment referred to by program managers and producers as reality TV has been a focus of cross-channel program developments since the early 1990s. This is where the medium brings together its focus on storytelling and observation. The original promise of television in the 1950s to function as a window to the world has gradually transformed into apparently direct insights into private living environments. The staging remains invisible to the audience by so-called realisers who tell their amateur actors how to behave and what they have to say.

Medial border crossings towards the social web

In the context of the growing competition with moving image offers on the Internet, production companies and those responsible for programs at broadcasters are trying to optimize the dimensions of experience and the impact potential of their programs on offer. Medial border crossings between television and the Internet form, among other things, the presence of reality actresses on the social web.

Reality TV formats combine fictional narrative structures, documentary concepts and forms of representation (direct observation with a moving camera) mostly with amateur actresses and thus achieve a high impression of authenticity. Many in the TV audience believe that they are “in the middle of life” (RTL) of the people. In the main themes of the reality formats, traditional lines of core content from different mass media are combined. Topics such as “The life of the stars” or “Lifestyle” are part of the established spectrum of tabloid journalism, while interpersonal relationships, health, guilt and atonement are reminiscent of established master plots of feature films or fictional series. Coaching formats, on the other hand, can be assigned to the traditional line of advice programs or magazines. Talk shows of the 1990s are considered to be important precursors to the television presence of non-celebrity people.

These main topics, but also dramaturgical elements, for example in the area of ​​“confrontainment”, are combined with one another like building blocks in changing format contexts. Flirt formats “Lonely under palm trees” (RTL) or “Adam sucht Eva - Stranded in Paradise” (RTL) combine the elements of flirtation, love and emigration, for example, and use the visual attractiveness of exotic locations. Successful formats such as “I'm a star, get me out of here” (RTL) contain a variety of mixes between fiction, documentation and entertainment. The attractive, exotic setting of various jungle and Tarzan films forms the framework for a pseudo social experiment with celebrities, which is subject to the principle of permanent observation of the show "Big Brother", which was first broadcast in 2000, and is accompanied by self-deprecating, humorous comments by a pair of moderators. In addition to game elements from game shows, elements of the love story are also integrated into the "jungle camp". The Australian jungle studio equipped by a British production company forms the stage for a media folk theater with an ensemble composed of different areas of popular culture and media. This hybridization of elements from previous forms of cultural and media expression forms the basis of a particularly broad attraction potential that manifests itself in high quotas.

A pact between viewers and producers

The viewers enter into an implicit pact with the producers to accept the story shown as real for the duration of its broadcast. This also gives them the opportunity to make a social comparison with the lives of Hartz IV recipients or millionaires, for example in “Suddenly rich, suddenly poor - The exchange experiment” (Sat 1). The pact increases the information and experience value of what is shown.

Using formats such as “Germany’s Next Top Model” (Pro Sieben), it can be shown that social ideologies such as neoliberalism are packaged in jury decisions (“You must not question the instructions of your client”) and are thus implicitly conveyed to the audience. The format suggests that everything depends on the willingness of the individual to perform. Reality TV formats also contain the implicit potential of generating acceptance of surveillance technologies and the associated power constellations through the media representation of everyday life.

Reality TV also forms an intermediary between traditional television and the new offerings of moving images on the Internet. The diverse staging of privacy in reality TV can be seen on the one hand as a preparation for practices of self-presentation on online media, on the other hand as a strategy to compete with platforms such as YouTube, YouNow and other forms of social web offerings.

- Joan Kristin Bleicher: Reality TV in Germany. History - topics - formats. Avinus Verlag, Berlin 2018, 456 pages, 58 €

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