Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rough Draft

With the onset of a new reality genre television can now be seen as an interactive environment. In the simplest of definitions interactivity can be described as “involving the actions or input of a user” (Merriam-Webster). That would pretty much include about everything we use these days such as using a remote, dialing a phone, typing etc. When using the word in this paper I’m meaning it as a more restrictive term. In class we talked about Zork and how the decisions you made that affected the storyline were interactive. This is what I mean by saying reality TV can be interactive. Instead of taking a passive role by just simply watching the show viewers are given the opportunity to interact and make decisions that affect how the program plays out.

The genre of Reality television doesn’t have exact limits as to what it includes. Even game shows can now be considered reality TV with Howie Mandel being nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality - Competition Program for hosting Deal or No Deal which is like any other game show. Most sources however would say what the average person would consider reality TV can be traced back to the premiere of The Real World in 1992 which was drastic change from the sitcoms of the time. For the first time you had unscripted relationships strangers broadcasted for everyone to witness. This led into numerous spinoffs of the format until a reality TV hit a peak in the early 2000’s with the creation of such shows as Survivor, Big Brother and American Idol where the format was greatly changed and there were winners and prizes involved. This is where interactivity of home viewers started to come into play.

A lot of people right off the bat would say that reality TV isn’t really interactive. Their arguments would mainly consist of stating its either fake or that votes don’t really count. While I have to admit that there are plenty of fake “reality” shows out there like Paris Hilton’s My New BFF and The Hills (where even the cast members admit to being cast and how they reenact scenes) that give the genre a bad rep you can’t discredit all the others because of them. It would be like saying comedies aren’t funny because some are terrible. How could one really it’s all fake when you have a show like Big Brother where there’s a 24/7 live internet feed of the house that you can watch online, it’s as real as it gets. To say voting doesn’t actually count is another statement trying to discredit the genre with an already bad rep. Sure if there was some poll on one of the clearly fake shows I’d agree the voting could possibly be a hoax but when it comes to programs such as American Idol and Survivor where a large sum of money or contract are involved I can safely say the votes surely count. It’s not as if you can see someone counting off the votes for the President yet I’m sure everyone would believe those votes count, so why should it be any different for TV. Even though there are plenty of misleading “reality” programs, the clearly credible ones have provided an outlet for viewers to interact with their favorite shows.

Voting has become the stand out way for viewers to interact with a reality series. Instead of just simply watching a show, you can take an active role by helping to make decisions that affect what happens for the rest of the season. In shows like American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, and the first season of Big Brother viewers vote week by week to eliminate a contestant. Each week you can potentially change the fate of game and because of it there has been numerous fan sites these type of shows meant to get people to vote for certain people. The goal for is to “encourage you to have fun with American Idol by voting for the bad and truly entertaining contestants” (Vote). People are now starting to interact with each other to have a greater effect on the show and time and time again they have been successful such as when the terrible singer Sanjaya Malakar lasted a long time on Idol and when Master P (who never actually danced) continued to stick around on Dancing with the Stars. It just goes to show that the votes really do matter and that people can make a difference in what they’re watching.

Along with being able to vote for winners viewers are also now starting to be able vote for who they want as cast members of shows. For the All-Star season of Big Brother fans had the opportunity to vote to choose eight of the 14 contestants in the upcoming season. As opposed to shows like Idol once the show started it’s the contestants that vote each other out not viewers yet in the end the winner and the other final four were all people who were chosen by America and the majority of the rest who voted in lasted a long time as well. So even though while watching viewers can’t interact, their initial decisions still played a crucial role in how the show turned out. The same type of idea was used with the last season of The Real World. People could create profiles on MTV’s website where America could vote for their favorite to be part of the cast. Greg Halstead was ultimately chosen and became an instant villain which from watching his profile videos you could tell was bound to happen. By being able to chose cast members viewers are finally able to make decisions in what they want in a contestant as opposed to what producers want.

I obviously still have a lot more to work on with the paper to bulk it up, but I didn’t want to do so until I read more into the sources I’ve found. I found an online book about this subject that haven’t had a chance to read yet, but from skimming through it seems it should be really helpful and I’ll probably base a lot of the rest of the paper on that.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

You start out with some fairly focused definitions - interactivity means something specific to you, as does reality television. You *don't* have a specific argument, though, which I'm continually reminded of through the paper.

You are focused on interactivity in reality television; you eventually focus in on the interactivity offered specifically by voting. I have two basic criticisms here.

1) You aren't terribly clear or convincing where history is concerned. What is the history of this style of interactivity in popular culture, for instance, or in television specifically? As a trivial example of what I mean, in 1988 readers of the Batman comic books had a chance to vote on the fate of Robin: live or die. They voted for his death, and the comics were written accordingly. My point is that the style of interactivity that interests you has its own history and antecedents, outside television as well as inside - similarly, reality television has its own history (which you do touch on, but not in detail).

2) This is the more important criticism. I don't know what you're trying to do here. Clearly the subject of interactivity-through-voting in reality television interests you. Why? What does it mean to you? What do you want to prove about it? Do you want me to have some particular ideas about reality television when I'm done with the paper?

You have a reasonably narrow focus, but no argument that I can discern.