Saturday, March 7, 2009

Reality TV becomes fatality TV

(Published in the Curmudgeon column, Dominion Post, March 3.)

THE DEATH of man who leapt seven metres from an Auckland brothel window when immigration officers burst in to the building, accompanied by a “reality” TV crew, raises interesting issues.

First there is the question of whether officials get pumped up on adrenalin in such situations and indulge in unnecessarily dramatic behaviour in their eagerness to make themselves look heroic and provide exciting visuals for the TV show.

That in turn raises, again, the matter of that misleading term “reality TV”. What we see on these shows is never reality, because the behaviour of the people involved is inevitably affected by the presence of the camera.

The other question arising from the Auckland brothel death relates to privacy. If a man wants to patronise prostitutes, and it’s legal to do so, he shouldn’t have to indulge in panic-stricken coitus interruptus for fear of being caught on camera and having his face, not to mention other body parts, broadcast on network television. To use a phrase favoured by lawyers, he has a natural expectation of privacy.

It may well be that his face would have been pixillated in the finished programme so as to be unrecognisable. But a man embarrassed at being caught in a bordello – and bear in mind he may have had a wife and children – doesn’t have the luxury of time to think these things through. His fatal instinct was to run for it.

Where privacy concerns clash with a legitimate public interest in knowing something, I back the public right to know every time. But it’s hard to argue that there’s an overwhelming public interest in knowing that a private citizen is enjoying clandestine nooky with a hooker.

“Reality” TV has become fatality TV. The phenomenon is out of control and needs to be reined in.

* * *

HAD ENOUGH Academy Awards hysteria to last for the rest of the 21st Century?

Who really cares, outside Hollywood, which film gets the nod for Best Picture, or which over-hyped glamour-puss gets up for the acting honours? And who can take seriously the carefully orchestrated and highly ritualised presentation ceremony and acceptance speeches?

Movies and actors are like wine. You like some and you don’t care for others. We shouldn’t need supposed experts to tell us who or what is best.

Personally I would give a big swerve to anything starring supposed stars such as Sean Penn or Nicole Kidman, but would crawl the length of Lambton Quay naked – well, Chews Lane, anyway – to see anything starring Frances McDormand, Meryl Streep or Tommy Lee Jones.

Award ceremonies, whether they involve movies, wine or fashion, are essentially industry self-congratulation fests. Who cares what the members of the grandiosely titled Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decide, especially when the judging process is so contaminated by industry politics and behind-the-scenes lobbying?

For the record, by far the best American film of 2008 that I’ve seen was Burn After Reading, made by the incomparable Coen Brothers. It didn’t get a single Oscar nomination.

* * *

THE SUPER 14 season got off to the best possible start as far as I’m concerned.

New Zealand teams are doing badly, which means we have been spared the usual displays of chest-thumping about how great we are. I hope it stays that way.

My heart sinks every February, knowing we are about to face months of saturation rugby coverage in which cheerleading too often masquerades as sports journalism.

If the New Zealand teams went right through the Super 14 season without recording a single win, I couldn’t be happier. It wouldn’t do any harm to some of the show-pony players’ egos, either.

* * *

I SUPPOSE we should be grateful to television cook Allyson Gofton for lifting the lid – if you’ll pardon the pun – on what went on behind the scenes on Food In a Minute, which she says she quit because of the commercial pressures being put on her.

According to Gofton, she was asked to plug certain foods as healthy when she knew they were not and was leaned on to create recipes that didn’t make sense to her, simply to promote the sponsors’ products.

All of this confirms what a lot of us suspected about TVNZ – namely, that its relentlessly commercial ethos leaves it ethically compromised. Food In a Minute may be just a glorified ad, but its strategic placement in front of the 6pm news gives it a huge audience and virtual official endorsement.

But should we regard Gofton as a heroine for bravely going public about this? I would have been much more impressed if she had blown the whistle when it was actually happening, rather than post-facto.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Agree with your opinion of Burn After Reading but also thought Slumdog was a worthy winner. However, the most impressive film I've seen this year is the doco "Man on a wire". If you haven't seen it recommend you do