Friday, December 17, 2010

Quiz Show

Quiz Show
last seen online via Hulu

We call it "reality" television. We see either celebrities or everyday people engaging in situations that are presented as documents of actual events. Sometimes it's a competition of some sort. Sometimes we're following them around in their daily lives. Sometimes they're engaging in a contrived premise that will impact their l
ives beyond the boundaries of the program. Regardless, we call it "reality" television because we're led to believe that on some level, what we're watching is real.

But we know better. We know that many events are staged. We know shows are often edited in ways that manufacture drama. We know product placement can play a part. And we know that at least 99% of the participants are entirely disposable and can be replaced with someone more compliant, or more photogenic, or more sympathetic, at a moment's notice. And we don't seem to care.

Once upon a time, though, we did. Back when television was still new and full of promise, we were much more willing to take what we saw on the small screen at face value, not realizing that even then, we were being had! Hoodwinked! Bamboozled!

This is what I was thinking of as I watched Quiz Show last night. The movie's backdrop
suggests a more innocent time - families and friends faithfully gathered around the TV as 21 airs each week, in an America that may live under the looming threat of the Soviets, but is still confident in their perceived superiority.

The way the movie shows Dan Enright and the other 21 producers manipulate their contestants and cultivate their public images is not too far removed from how reality shows of today operate. Back then, there were people who believed television should be held to a higher standard, as evidenced by Rob Morrow's character, Dick Goodwin, searching for evidence that 21 is rigged in order to prosecute its producers. Now... it seems like people are more willing to accept the artifice of reality TV. Maybe it's because the dominance of television in everyday lives has been eclipsed, if not usurped, by the Internet. Maybe people are less demanding. I sure don't know, but I think the parallels are worth noting.

Something I noticed on Hulu as I watched Quiz Show: during the commercials (which are always played at a higher volume than the movie itself, which is irritating), there's a thing on top of the screen that asks "Is this ad relevant to you?" with a yes/no option to click.
What an absurd question to ask. What does that even mean? If an ad is "relevant" to me, does that make it more likely that I'll buy the product? Does it mean it represents the way I live? Does it mean it reflects my values? Any ideas?

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