I have always been very sceptical about reality shows that put on screen the difficulties of life without taking into account that there are people in the world who actually have to go through a countless number of adversities in order to survive. But this thought of mine has never really become an actual consideration until this morning. In fact, until this morning, my critique about this kind of shows only involved a generic disapproval of the participants, often semi-famous personalities, who I declared to be desperate and who only deserved my pity since, apparently, they only took part in these shows to put their downhill careers back on track.
This morning I heard the news that two helicopters collided in the Argentinian clear sky, around Villa Castelli, a town in the north-west part of La Rioja province, where a film crew was filming French television show Dropped. In the crash ten people lost their lives: two Argentinian pilots and eight French citizens, including three sports stars part of the cast; 57 years old sailor Florence Arthaud, 25 years old Olympic swimmer Camille Muffat and 21 years old Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine.
Besides the enormous shock that must be felt by French population and the tragedy of the loss of important athletes, questions start coming to mind: is it really necessary to put an unarmed and probably unprepared group of people in a desert part of the world? Putting their lives at risk for what? Money? Fame? Visibility? And most of all, is it worth it?
But let’s take a step back to understand the meaning of the reality show phenomenon. This particular kind of television programming exploded in the United States, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with the airing of the Big Brother and Survivor, and gained popularity all around the world with plenty of reproductions. The distinctive trait of this television genre is that it follows unscripted situations where the cast members, that at the beginning used to be common people, act in a normal and real way, highlighting conflicts and personal drama. With time, reality shows evolved in different formats, such as talent shows, dating programs, makeover programs, court programs, which should be representative of how society is changing. They represent a slice of society, being it bad or good. Moreover the use of celebrities in the cast probably came from the necessity to attract more viewers, as it is clear how people crave to know more about the lives of their idols.
Of course reality shows are not to be blamed for the helicopters’ crash, that appears to be an unfortunate incident, on which investigation are been conducted, but it is also undeniable that this particular event makes us wonder about the value of this social experiments.
The tragedy of the situation has a main role today, and a lot has been said about it, with statements from all kinds of sources, from French President Francois Hollande to channel Tf1, from victims’ families to International Olympic Committee, but there is still something I can’t get over with, the fact that this reality show was built on the willingness to survive of the contestants. The rules were clear: a group of celebrity athletes divided into two teams were dropped into some of the most remote locations on earth, with no map, no food, no help, and had to find civilisation. It seems surreal that this search for survival ended up with the actual death of some of the contestants. Television is not always fiction.
One more aspect to add to the case refers to what I consider a mockery toward those 805 million of people, about one ninth of the worlds’ population, who do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. As indicated in FAO’s publication ‘The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014’. Millions of people everyday are struggling to survive, dealing with situations of poverty and hunger, often living in developing countries where 13.5 percent of the population is undernourished, with no help from anybody, just like the contestants of Dropped, or similar shows. It’s understandable that we are not in the position of criticising two things so far apart, on one side World’s hunger, on the other a money-making tv show, but still, it is something to think about.
I have a suggestion for the ultimate reality show: contestants from a village in the Sub-Saharan Africa who try to survive with their own strengths to poverty and hunger for a limited period of time, the winner takes the money.