The internet offers an interesting lens on the world. It offers us a myriad of ways in which we can connect, consume, learn, believe, share, articulate, identify, relate and create. Media, as an entity, plays an integral role in the functioning of the internet with communication flowing through the content we all generate. Whether it is the words on this screen, the video in your player, the pirated movie on your desktop or the 140 characters in your feed it is the language of our time, it is the content that flows through our tubes that is our means of connection and identification. It’s pervasive, personal and a magnificent expression of what we, as a society, value, believe and identify with. This brings me to an interesting observation about the kind of content we love so much. It brings me to reality TV and reality-based content.
Over the course of the past decade we’ve seen the explosion of reality-based programming across all media. It exists in all forms and has permeated all corners of society. To be brutal, it is not because of its artistic, social or cultural merit that this has happened. It has happened because what that internet has transformed us to become. We NEED content to be able to relate to one another. We need it to understand people, countries and companies, and we need it to be REAL so we can understand our relationship to it to further develop our own identities. Our content needs to be REAL because we want to be authentic ourselves and it is BECAUSE of the internet’s existence that content functions this way.
The internet has unleashed this need for the REAL because it has become so formative in helping us identify who we are. The pervasive nature of information has allowed us to acquire truth in an instant and our appetite for that truth is critical because we need to know how it helps us define ourselves. As a result of this thirst for the real we no longer aspire to be like the superheroes, the role models, the perfect characters, the infallible because they aren’t REAL. We want to know the gritty truth, the faults, the flaws of our icons, the deep secrets, the ways in which the best in the world fail us because we are flawed ourselves.
We can quickly look at recent film successes like The Dark Knight as an example. We crave the fallibility of Batman as he battles his inner demons and we cheer for The Joker as he builds empathy with his story of childhood atrocities and understandable real-world insights …
“You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go “according to plan.” Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all “part of the plan.” But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!” – The Joker, The Dark Knight, 2008 (min 2:15)
This craving of the REAL is precisely why we can’t turn away from the monstrosity that is the Jersey Shore and The Housewives of wherever the F*** right down to the likability of villains like The Joker in The Dark Night. We need authenticity in our worlds today because the internet demands it of us.
The opposite side of this reality craze is the way in which we consistently distance ourselves from news media that tries to present us the REAL. We acknowledge the atrocities we see from far away lands like what happened with the South African miners but we choose not to relate to it in identifying it in our smartphones. The same can be said for the way we see foreign wars. Our reality paradox is that we crave the REAL from our fictional content (TV shows, Movies, Brand Stories, etc) but choose not to connect with the authentic REAL.
The internet has accelerated the breeding of a reality crazed world that only seeks authenticity in our content. It is our drive towards a better understanding of self and our relationships both online and offline that makes it so. The challenge that lies before us is how we distinguish between the genuine real and the manufactured real. I hope that over time we will begin to embrace the real in the world around us and let the fictitious content remain in a world unto itself.
Title image sourced here
Joker image sourced here