I can explain the origin of the “reality” phenomenon – which extends right up to the White House – in one word:
No, wait! Two words.
Technology and money.
Life Before Technology:
A kid doing hilarious monologues in their bedroom.
Life After Technology:
The podcast: “Jokes From The Bedroom”, starring a kid you would otherwise never have heard of, who works cheap, or, quite possibly, for nothing. (It happens.) That’s where the “money” part comes in. Not for the hilarious comedian. But for the delivery systems, bringing them to our grateful attention.
Here, according to what somebody once told me and I took it for the emmis (the truth) is how it originally started, “it” being the reality upheaval that “tsunamied” show business, later expanding to every aspect of our culture.
Fan magazines were having increasing problems getting recognized celebrities to cooperate. The power was all with the celebrities. Without their participation, fan magazines would be empty pages, with occasional advertisements. (Although who’d want to appear in a magazine with blank pages? I guess, crayon manufacturers. If anyone.)
To succeed, fan magazines needed those recognized celebrities. (Hopefully, pregnant in a bikini.) But, for whatever reasons – perhaps they were tired of the attention. No, not that. – the recognized celebrities began to balk at this promotional merry-go-round. It got so bad fan magazines were getting rejections from the celebrities’ housekeepers.
“No, he’s home. He just told me to say ‘No’.”
The recognized celebrities demanded money. They insisted on content approval. The reneged on their appointments.
“I forgot. I have to take my cockatiel for a “fluffing.”
The fan magazine’s feathers were ruffled – you see what I did there? – by the continual abuse. I can imagine a staff meeting where the magazine’s “Head Honcho” or “Honchetta” arrogantly but not entirely inaccurately bellows, “We made ‘em. And we can break ‘em!”
What did they do? They dispensed with the recognized celebrities – at least the less famous ones – creating a breed of new “recognized celebrities” of their own. *
(* This part is like Wikipedia. “This entry is incomplete. Please append any pertinent clarifying information.”)
I don’t know which came first, the fan magazine or the…
Here’s what has irreversibly changed. There are probably – and always have been – more talented people than we are ever aware of, or there are jobs for. Before “what’s happening now”, to necessarily “cull the herd”, there were these accredited “Gatekeepers” – based on “Yeeahs in the business” – who, consistent with tried-and-true “Standards of Excellence” – and because they said so – decided determinatively who made it and who didn’t.
And frequently, who got to audition in the first place. That’s how competitive things were. You almost needed to know someone to receive a “Sorry, kid. You don’t have it.”
The eelected “winners” fulfilled their dreams. The rejected losers retreated to less glamorous fields of endeavor, harboring nagging beliefs the determining “Gatekeepers” were crazy.
Taking a cue from the fan magazines – unless the fan magazines took a cue from them, forgive my ignorance, though it does not stop me from writing about this – the developing cable networks created “celebrities” of their own.
I can imagine a meeting at MTV, brainstorming “inexpensive programming”, where someone casually remarks, “You know what’s really inexpensive? The real world.”
And just like that, reality television was born. And people you never heard of became legitimate “Big Shots.” (Ascending,, sometimes, to the highest office in the land.)
The previous “Standards of Excellence” were abandoned. As were the venerable “Gatekeepers.” You didn’t need them anymore. People were entering through different gates. (I am not sure what the new “Standards of Excellence” are. There has to be some “distinguishing process.” Apparently, the public display or private activities gets you a seat at the table, or so I’ve heard. But I am not sure what else.)
I just thought of a third relevant word relating to the “Reality Revolution.”
(You don’t mind if I’m disorganized, do you? I think it adds to my stylistical charm.)
The third word is,
Democracy. (Including, for better or worse, political democracy.)
It’s like they just stopped selling tickets and let everyone into the show. There are, sadly, still people not making the grade – frustratingly unclear of what grade they were unable to make because, although nobody seems able to accurately define it, it is still not them. That reality aside, however, more often than before, people are fulfilling their cherished aspirations, sparing them a teeth-gritting reentry to law school.
Less people telling you “Go home.”
Hey, we don’t have to watch. Or read those fan magazines. (Except during pedicures.)
Or read this blog, for that matter.
But for some of us – participants and their followers –
It’s just kind of cool that opportunity is there.
(Though it would help to be minimally competent.)