Television has become inundated with programmes that supposedly show us scenes of real life. Reality television has become the modern day format for documentaries. From Benefits Street to X-Factor it's all about parading the lives of the unfortunate and slightly bewildered in front of a camera. How has the role of information programmes changed so dramatically?
Previously entertaining documentary films were all about the Louis Theroux or Dawn Porter style of television journalism, delivering interviews and asides to camera that kept us informed about a certain lifestyle without taking sides or seeming to make fun of groups in society. However, presenters and voice overs now seem to portray one side of an argument instead of depicting a certain life-style or story. Although the schedules need to move on from the noughties, we are no longer deemed intelligent enough by production companies to be informed of something and able to form our own opinion.
Like many people, I tuned into Channel 4's Dogging Tales last year because, come on, who hasn't at some point wondered what it is or how it happens. At the start of the documentary it felt a bit naughty to be spying on this world, but as it progressed I started to miss the format of having a presenter riding the wave of embarrassment with me. Essentially the viewer ended up feeling like some sort if voyeur, gawping at socially awkward, slightly despondent people with woodland animal faces that made the whole experience feel particularly surreal. The same can be said of many other documentaries such as Benefits Street, whose supposed aim is to show us a certain lifestyle but it culminates in a feeling that you're just mocking the down trodden.
Whilst there are still documentaries being made in the old style, they always seem to be about drunk young people or how to do a week's food shop for a pound. Investigative journalism seems to look no further than the issues that we have heard about from many different viewpoints, which is possibly why audiences are more likely to tune into reality telly to get their fix of delving into other people's worlds.
Those appearing on reality TV these days, especially current minor celebs, are fueling this take over from documentaries by using programmes like Celebrity Big Brother for promotion, which they cannot gain from informative programmes. Willingness to lay themselves bare, sometimes literally, in front of millions of viewers, means there is no shortage of people ready to appear in these apparent real life scenarios.
Reality TV in documentary style is now endemic over every station and picking up frequency, Sex, Singing And Not Spending Money could be the title used for nearly every one of these. While the shock factor and yes, often humour of seeing the deluded parade in front of audiences does entertain the masses, maybe it's time to go back to some aspects of the old style of documentary. Bring back the role of the TV journalist showing us lifestyles and subjects that broaden knowledge in an entertaining way instead of feeding stereotypes.