4fooey

June 2, 2007

(Un)reality TV

Filed under: Media — 4fooey @ 12:30 am

You couldn’t make this up… the last couple or 3 weeks in the media, aka on UK TV and on the web, has been weird, even weirder than normal. The real, the unreal, the bizarre, and the disturbing are all being played out on our TV or internet screens – reality and unreality are blurred.

unreality TV - note the Play button is just for effect...

At last there has been news of Alan Johnston – at least he is alive – with today the release of a video by an islamic-jihadist group apparently based in Palestine. While it’s good to see him alive, it is truly a strange and disturbing spectacle to see someone being forced to speak on camera, delivering a message from his captors. This could only be happening now, in 2007 with internet and instant news media – the captors release a video and the world’s media obligingly show it – what great (but ugly) publicity for them. The absolute irony here is that Johnston reported the plight of the Palestinians, showing the injustice of their situation, and now he has become the victim of the chaos in that region.

Then we have the continuing saga and spectacle of the McCann’s campaign to find Madeleine. I really feel for them – I can’t imagine how they feel, losing their child, not knowing where she is and whether or not she is alive. But I do feel really uneasy how they are using the media, and how the media are treating this story – I really feel this whole thing has been blown out of all proportion. It’s interesting to compare the McCann’s use of the media and that of Alan Johnston’s parents – they have sensibly kept out of the limelight and allowed the authorities get on with trying to get Alan released. A possible problem for the McCanns is that such a media glare has been created around their daughter, that if she is being held by someone, that someone will now find it impossible to give themselves up or hand back Madeleine – it may have put her life in danger. I also feel if she has been killed, then the publicity will make it harder for the McCanns to come to terms with it. This whole media circus was capped this week with the McCanns meeting the pope (what a strange mix of media, celebrity, and mystery), and now I see that on the ‘findmadeleine’ site, the fund has reached over £500,000.

Then we have the spectacle of Damien Hirst announcing his latest artwork, a platinum skull encrusted with over 8000 diamonds – the piece is reported to have cost £14million to make and will sell for $100million – as a piece of art, or media theatre, it has certainly captured the world’s attention. But why….? Obviously it is the cost, and it is quite a striking image, the sparkling skull. And of course it’s great publicity for Hirst who has a show opening at the White Cube gallery. This guy is a kind of cross between artist, rock star, and media celebrity – the latter is the key here, and his use of the media is very clever. Like the jihadist video makers, like the McCanns, he uses the media to maximum effect to get across his message – I’m not sure what his message is (he waffles something about death) but I know he’ll be making pots of money.

Then comes the ultimate media spectacle – Big Brother, which has just started its eighth series in the UK. This ‘program’ makes me sick, sick in the stomach – it is so useless, so pointless, soo…. – it is the absolute pits. Yet it’s really popular, but to me it appears to be about nothing – a triumph of the medium over the message – there is no message (no meaning), just its own useless existence; in this sense it is the definition and very essence of media celebrity itself. And on the day it started on Channel 4, rumour had it that the production company who makes it (Endemol, who else) is producing the ‘Big Donor Show’ – a show in which a terminally ill person gets to choose a recipient of their organs – yeah totally bizarre and tasteless. But tonight we learn that this is a hoax – funny that the rumour was put about on the day the BB was launched – funny that – what great publicity.

What do these all have in common – the media, and how the protagonists use the media, and how the media uses them. And how we are all bound up in this bizarre and wonderful soap opera that is the modern media. Can it get any stranger…?

P.S. the play button above does nothing – the pic is just to show that all these things are now being mixed up and played out on our TV or internet screens, like some weird unreality TV show.

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