Format vs Intent: Why Reality Television Makes One Uncomfortable

My friend Chelsea recently posed an interesting question on her blog:

so, here’s a topic that’s been on my mind: blogs vs. reality tv, and how the two have a similar platform – a peek into someone else’s presumably ordinary life that is made interesting by the use of imagery, prose, camera work, etc. – and yet blogs are so much more tasteful (usually – i mean, hgtv’s cash and cari is *kind of* reality tv and she’s great). is it that blogs hit the topics that matter? are blogs more sustainable because they address holistic (re: lasting) interests? i mean, we can watch celebrities shop at fancy stores, or we can look at bloggers who are sponsored by various online boutiques model their gifted/thrifted/vintage outfits – is it that the blog-writers’ lives are more attainable? is it making art out of the mundane (ie: children’s toys, lunch boxes, crafts) that appeals?

I think this difference in response has nothing to do with format. Blogs are merely a format, in the same way magazines, books, television and movies are all formats. There is nothing inherently superior about the blog format, just as television is not inherently inferior.

So why is that when reality television looks into the inner workings of someone’s life, it makes one feel more uncomfortable than a blog post? This difference is tied up in tone, focus, and agency. The standard reality television show is one of exploitation. People are put in difficult situations and filmed. Between coaching and editing, the film is constructed to create a particular storyline, often one that skews reality. This fabricated storyline is then used to ridicule, demonize, or embarrass the subjects. It is the studio in charge; the subjects of the show are mostly helpless to impact the finale image shown to the public.

Blogs are in general much more subject driven. The personal stories told in a blog are chosen by the subject, edited and presented in a fashion of her choosing. She controls the story, the presentation, and the format. Nothing stands behind you and the truth except what the subject herself choices to put there.

Of course, neither of these are absolutes. The example of Cash and Cari is an example of reality television that IS subject driven. Cari Cucksey is the driving force behind the show, and it is focused on making her the hero. There are also blogs that are entirely focused on presenting someone’s life story in the worst possible way imaginable. You see this a lot in far end political blogs.

The important thing to take away from this is that format does not dictate quality. Blogs are not inherently good any more than reality television is inherently bad. It is the intent and focus of the creators who shape a work’s value. Knowing and understand that is the key to finding quality content in whatever format you look at.

-That is all.

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3 thoughts on “Format vs Intent: Why Reality Television Makes One Uncomfortable

  1. ironically, i clicked on this week’s lecture/reading for my online class – writing, style, and technology, and the topic is material, word vs. image and how the communication properties of each are socially and historically constructed….ie: clean typography on a plain white page printed from word document is the only “acceptable” means of submitting an academic paper. why?

    on that note, you make a good point about agency. we blog with intention; we choose a point and write about it, we choose what is presented versus on say, the bachelorette, in which (i’m assuming) the players (really, like in a game) have little to no input on the editing process. in fact, it’s probable that they have to sign away all rights to input upon casting.

    so, then we briefly touch on whether or not writing takes on a life of it’s own once it’s put “out there” (in the blogosphere, print, the air via spoken word, etc.). agency is something i’m familiar with but not something i really feel grounded in discussing, which is to say it still settles with me as more of an abstract sentiment rather than a solid concept, and this is largely because i care a lot and want to really GET IT (and i will, when i have time to sit down and immerse myself in thought and reading). as in, once i publish a blog post, i have chosen the subject and structure and whatever else, but from there, the audience maintains a certain responsibility in how that is interpreted, or, exploited. does intention eliminate the possibility for exploitation? is keeping a personal blog merely a gentle exploitation, and therefore more “romantic” (in the sense of genre and trend)?

    point: it’s not just the creators who shape a work’s value. format doesn’t dictate quality by itself, but i think perception is an important factor in grading quality and one that must be considered, including the questions of “how” and “why” certain traits have come to be valued.

  2. Nicholas Lester Bell says:

    The reader has a strong part to play in how a piece is valued. This is true regardless of the medium – it is equally true in books as it is in blogs. The reader can bring all sorts of pre-conceived notions of a format that will impact that evaluation.

    And the reader can take that content and do whatever he or she wants with it. This does leave open an avenue for exploitation, but no more than any other public action you take. Definitely a far lesser amount than most reality television, which has a very direct exploitation.

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