reality tv

The pros, cons and responsibilities of popularizing adventure

This morning I woke up to the news of ten people dying when two helicopters collided while filming a French survival reality television program. This horrible accident has me questioning, yet again, the wisdom – or lack thereof – behind popularizing highly risky adventure activities through reality television.

Several weeks ago, British television aired a two-part documentary about a British adventurer trekking the length of the Nile River. While on the trek, the adventurer and his guide, at this stage completely on their own, had to walk through territory they knew was under the control of armed men. They clandestinely filmed an exchange in which they gave the armed men some of their gear in order to secure their passage through the territory. Later, in the same documentary, a journalist and his photographer came across the adventurer and asked to join them for part of their trek. Apparently they were heading in the same direction. They were welcomed by the adventurer, who continued on his way to trek by the side of the Nile, during the daytime, in exposed 50-Celsius heat. The journalist got heat stroke. Due to the nature of this particular trek, the emergency evacuation available to the adventurer was hours away. All that could be done was to set up a makeshift shade for the journalist and try to cool him with the little amount of water the group had. The journalist died. The adventurer appeared incredibly sad. The end of the documentary showed a black screen with the picture of the journalist and a nice “In memory of…” And viewers were expected to then watch the second part of the documentary the following week and cheer the adventurer on for the remainder of his journey.

I felt insulted. A man died, in my mind and from what we were shown, directly as a result of this group engaging in unacceptably risky behavior, and I was expected as a viewer to take this in my stride as being normal and expected. I was supposed to accept that the adventurer continued on his trek, continued to film, and continued to enjoy and revel in his own experiences. I refused to watch the second episode of the documentary the following week. Not that it mattered to anyone.

I believe it is one thing for an individual to engage in risky behavior only at his or her own expense. But that it is a completely different and unacceptable thing to take inexperienced people under one’s wing while engaging in such behaviors. Much worse, I believe, is popularizing this sort of activity in a way that undermines the seriousness of the activities involved. (more…)

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What Real Reality TV Might Look Like: My Life in a Month

I tend to watch a lot of crap reality TV. It helps take my mind off more serious issues: like wars and death in the Arab world and whether my children will be safe going to school in Egypt today.

But being the semi-intelligent person I am, I realize that most if not all of what we see on reality television shows is staged in one way or another.

A couple of my friends have mentioned over the past two years that I should have a reality television show of my own. I always reply, “Do you have any idea how boring and commonplace my life is? There would be absolutely no element of entertainment.”

Of course, my life isn’t really boring. Quite to the contrary, if you ask me. I manage to spice things up as often as is possible given my circumstances. Even so, my life, as is anyone else’s, is comprised of a lot of routine interspersed with some excitement.

Last month I had a sudden burst of creative energy. I wanted to do something a bit different. How about I take small videos of random parts of my day for a month and see what that month of my life looked like in retrospect?

So I carried a mini camera with me all month long. It went with me everywhere. Sometimes I’d remember I had it with me and others I wouldn’t. When I would randomly remember I had it I’d take a short video clip of whatever it was I was doing. I kept that up for a full month.

I put together some random four-second clips from the videos I took. I thought of making it move fast-forward or of adding some music to it. But then I decided that the normal speed and the normal noise is what my life is really like. I’m going to leave things just as they are. Normal.

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