Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Reading Reality

Two recent news stories - the of the balloon boy hoax in October and the recent crashing of White House dinner party - have stirred up conversation about reality TV and its continued infiltration of North American society. Like it or loath it, reality TV has become a major part of North American entertainment. And it's not just on the TV screen that we see its influence - fiction writing has embraced the phenomena as well.

In terms of reality TV books - they cover almost every type of reality show you could imagine. There are dating show inspired titles like Queen of His Heart by Adrianne Byrd which tells the story of Jalila Goodwyn, overheard by a tv producer telling her friends in a restaurant about her latest dating fiasco, and made the star of her own reality show. There are books of the makeover show variety like Reality TV Bites in which a reality TV junkie ends up part of an over-the-top home reno show called Kamikaze Makeover. And there are books based on the more adventure oriented style of reality TV shows, like Carolyn Parkhurst's Lost and Found, which has a synopsis that reads a bit like a mash up of several seasons of the Amazing Race.

With the ever increasing number of talent based reality competition shows, their influence is growing in the fiction world too. Try Welcome to the Real World for a fictional peek inside an American Idol style show, or Chart Throb if satire is more your thing.

If a Dancing with the Stars fan then Dancing Shoes and Honky Tonk Blues might be right up your alley. And if you really hate those reality show judges you might enjoy A Talent for Murder, in which a talent show's popularity skyrockets when the mean judge on a talent show is murdered and one of the other judges tries to investigate.

Some books use fiction to take the reality TV genre to places it could never go (we hope). Battle Royale is a cult classic from Japan: it's been a book, a graphic novel and a movie. The story revolves around a group of grade nine students who are locked away in a isolated camp and left to fight to the death until only one remains. Noted for its graphic violence, it's been called an allegory of trying to survive in modern society.

Other books in this vein use imagined extremes to critique society's obsession with the victories - and more to the point - the humiliations that reality TV doles out to its contestants.

Two recent titles - The Big Question by Chuck Barris and Sulphuric Acid by Amelie Nothomb - both imagine a world where reality TV has become so extreme that death - televised to a blood thirsty audience - is the fate of unlucky contestants. Such critiques of the modern appetite for misfortune aren't new. Looking back pre-reality TV, I can't help but be reminded of the Richard Bachman (Stephen King) novella The Long Walk. First published in 1979, it tells the story of an annual competition where 100 people embark on a long walk, where the 1 winner receives "the prize" and the 99 losers die.

If the imaginings of those titles don't appeal to you, but the place of reality TV in our modern culture does, you may be interested in this nonfiction title Shooting People: Adventures in Reality TV.

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