Reality Culture: Bigger than TV

Twitter battles are just EDM culture’s version of reality TV
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Twitter battles are just EDM culture’s version of reality TV
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Ever wondered what happened to that EDM DJ reality show we reported was in production back in 2013? Well, Simon Cowell’s weekly venture Ultimate DJ was supposed to broadcast on Yahoo! TV but the internet giant sacked it before it even started broadcasting, for undisclosed reasons. Yet with EDM still rising in popularity and EDM culture being omnipresent in the last few years, it’s a matter of time until we do see a reality series exploring it, even if it’s not this one.

After all, it’s pretty obvious that it’s not only reality TV that’s here to stay, and we are increasingly getting more and more influences of the reality approach in all sorts of places. Taking that into account, we’ve decided to explore the world of reality in greater depth, looking into what it means for us, whether we love or hate it.

A Little Bit of Prehistory

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 The year was 1968. Legendary American artist Andy Warhol was preparing an exhibition in Sweden and decided to write the following sentence in the program:

“In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes”

For some people the reality genre has its origins earlier than Warhol’s prophetic quote, as they consider Candid Camera to be the prototype of reality TV. The long-lived television show which sees practical jokes played on unsuspecting strangers while a camera documents their reactions actually started broadcasting in 1948.

Others claim the true predecessor of what we now known as reality TV was the American documentary series An American Family, which viewers first watched in 1973. For twelve weeks, episode after episode documented the lives of a Santa Barbara family going through a divorce. By the way, in very meta- fashion, a recent scripted TV movie retells the story of the making of An American Family. It’s called Cinema Vérité and it stars Tim Robbins and Diane Lane.

Some History

What we now know so well as reality television began in the 1990s or possibly the late 1980s. It was 1989 that saw the first broadcast of COPS, which has been going strong for 28 seasons. Following the police on patrols, COPS introduced the reality aesthetic of the unstable camcorder shot and brought real people to our screens in new ways, different from the likes of newscasts and quiz shows.

Still, it was clearly the Netherlands – Tiësto’s birthplace with its thriving EDM culture – that produced the first gem of pure reality TV, called Nummer 28. The series followed the lives of seven strangers, students sharing a house in Amsterdam.

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Shortly after that, MTV casted seven strangers to spend three months in the same house and have their interactions broadcasted for the whole world to see. The show was, of course, The Real World and it has been attributed with helping break taboos and depict contemporary reality in a brand-new way.

And a Whole Lotta Reality

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Nowadays, viewers are used to a number of different reality sub-genres. From Real Housewives to The Biggest Loser, from court-rooms to tattoo parlors, reality TV offers us glimpses into the lives, skills, struggles, successes and (often epic) failures of hundreds of people who often got the 15 minutes of fame Warhol once promised. Interestingly, a few years ago the elusive, notorious Banksy created a piece of artwork in which a bright pink TV-set reads

“In the future everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes”

thus highlighting the prevalence of our contemporary reality-based culture.

But the reality phenomenon has certainly escaped the confines of television. All in all, recent decades have seen a major cultural shift towards reality that extends far beyond the realm of our TV boxes. The trend for exposure and realism is permeating in a way that we sometimes fail to see. According to a 2012 Euromonitor consumer trend analysis, the popularity of social networks themselves is closely connected to this leaning, especially in terms of the ways in which the majority of users choose to narrate their lives on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and so on.

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At the same time, audiences increasingly ask for less impersonal communications with services, products and businesses. That means everything from preferring to play online blackjack and roulette with live dealers with Poker Stars casino live games to having the opportunity to chat in real time with customer assistants on Chase’s website. In a way, even the tendency to turn to sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor to post and read online reviews of local restaurants and look at pics of the dishes they offer is closely connected to the cultural shift towards reality – we’d rather see real people’s experience in an establishment than look at its website.

The Future

In 1999, the film The Matrix explored the idea that perhaps the world we live in is not real but a virtual reality created by intelligent machines. That was the first time many people were introduced to the concept of virtual reality. Seventeen years later, in early 2016, consumers will be able to buy the first mass-market virtual reality headsets, such as Oculus Rift and Sony’s PlayStation VR. This technological development marks an important change in the way we play videogames and even watch movies: The gaming experience is more real than ever, offering 360 degrees of movement using only your head.

In a similar fashion, YouTube has started offering 360-degree videos, which means that you don’t only see what the camera is pointing at but the entire world around it. As we embrace reality-based culture, we also become more susceptible to it. Companies rushed to take advantage of this new technology, creating new-school, realer-than-ever ads for a series of products, like the last installment of The Hunger Games – Mockingjay, Part 2 - or Coca-Cola.

But there are even more ways in which we get our reality fix. Nowadays, more advertisements than ever before feature “real,” everyday people, who either lend their face and name to product campaigns, narrate their experiences with a service or become part of marketing in other ways. For instance, the “Dove Real Beauty Campaign” has been selecting and featuring women next door as models to both redefine the audience’s concept of beauty and promote the Unilever soap brand since 2004.

As for reality TV itself, it has been steadily popular: A 2015 survey in the US showed that reality TV programs are the fourth most popular genre of TV show, with 34% of the audience watching. This same year, an exhaustive historical review of reality television counted 309 different programs in the United States only.

Long-lived, then groundbreaking reality competition franchises began to pop-up on our television sets in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, took the entire globe by storm and still dominate ratings: Big Brother, American Idol, Survivor, America’s Got Talent and MasterChef were all exported from their original countries of creation for localized productions in different countries.

Yes, reality TV can be polarizing – some hate it, others love it, and for many it’s a guilty pleasure. But the element of reality is obviously and certainly here to stay, in one form or another. Next time you complain about the Kardashians, remember that Twitter battles are just EDM culture’s version of reality TV.