We have a new reality show called Gogglebox where the audience gets to watch people watching and commenting on their favourite TV shows. I’ve been known to fall asleep of an evening while watching my favourite show so thought of watching other people watching their favourite shows only makes me yawn.
I looked it up. Goggle means to stare or ogle and this show certainly fits the bill. It’s new to us, but UK audiences have been perving on people in their lounge rooms since 2013. Now we are watching the watchers in Australia and calling it entertainment.
We seem to be less challenged and more easily amused these days. I hear the show is taking traction; people who didn’t think they would like it say they are pleasantly surprised to find that they do. I don’t know why they should be surprised. We used to call this sort of behaviour sleazy; (the medical term for being Peeping Tom Syndrome) but that was before reality TV. The Gogglebox is not the first reality show we have experienced. We have come so far that we aren’t even self-conscious any more about having private phone conversations in public places.
Peeping into so many strangers’ homes has normalised the experience. The Gogglebox is just another in a long line of cheap entertainment programs that requires only a premise and a bunch of amateurs eager to claim their fifteen minutes of fame. Our reality stars are a farmer who wants a wife, a bunch of beauties vying for the affections of a millionaire and desperate mothers offering unwilling sons up on the altar of marriage. Or is it down the altar? Who cares? Not the entertainment business. These shows sell a lot of air time and magazines and we are the sacrifices on the altar of commercial expediency.
The first show I became aware of was about a bunch of strangers who sign on to live together in disharmony for six weeks. I wish I could remember the name of this show so I could make myself forget it again. A scripted and highly edited soapie was played out for our delectation. People couldn’t stop discussing the goings on around the water cooler and anticipating the next episode with relish. Have I mentioned Hoarders yet? Even the messiest of us dropping in for a visit feel virtuous yet sympathetic as we watch hoarders trapped in their befouled lairs.
It all sounds a bit ‘1984’ creepy to me. Orwell was about thirty years out but even he couldn’t have predicted that we would willingly embrace this sort of intrusion into our lives or be entertained by it. He was cynical about human nature but even he couldn’t have imagined anti-social media in his wildest flights of fancy. Not a problem for us because reality TV has stunted any flights of fancy we might have staked claim to.
These are not only interesting but also confusing times. We will fight to the death to protect what we see as our human rights and our right to privacy but will joyfully embrace the thousand followers of our most banal utterances. I believe the term is ‘friended’. We cling to these friends even though we will never meet these them or necessarily have anything in common with them if we did.
I used to watch a skit on a live entertainment show called ‘over the fence’. Two housewives taking a break from housework and having a bit of a gossip over the fence before their children came home from school. They preferred the one on one contact and hadn’t anticipated anti-social media either. How they became the precursors of today’s glamorous and empowered ‘real housewives’ is a mystery to me. I smile now as I did then and I ask myself, who wants the fantasy when we can have the reality? And then the follow up thought: are we capable of distinguishing between the two any more?