THE LAST TABOOS OF REALITY SHOWS
German generalist TV has successfully launched some formats that were unknown to me: reality shows about military exercises that praise war (title: we defend Germany); or following the work of traffic police who give fines to motorists; or showing maramalos who cheat tourists; and, last but not least, a weekly programme showing female truck drivers on the road. Nothing else. Just women, not necessarily good-looking, but often foul-mouthed and boorish, driving a 50-tonne truck.
In the 1990s Silvio Berlusconi and Leo Kirch taught us Europeans that the programming of a TV channel is constructed in such a way as to contain as much advertising as possible – following models already in vogue in the US and Australia. Initially, this resulted in a fight over the TV rights of films and major sporting events.
Over the years, as the pie was immense, and the technology better, while the principle remained intact, strategies changed. The all-European possibility of obtaining licences for dozens of channels, all broadcast by the same company, also made it possible to chase niches of viewers: first with the sexualisation or sensationalisation of talk-shows, then with specialised channels on less popular sports, violence, religious fundamentalism, or simple advertising, 24 hours a day.
This changed the way of ‘selling’ stories. Loyalty being paramount, first came (from South America) the soap operas, then the situation comedies, the television series capable of holding millions of people captivated and emotionally attached to the boys of ‘Friends’, the women of ‘Sex and the City’, the science fiction of ‘Star Trek’, the moustaches of ‘Magnum P.I.’ and so on, in an ocean of productions of great or no success, but all aimed at convincing viewers to watch as many commercials as possible.
The Americans, who are ahead of us, have made adverts an art, and during the Superbowl (the football championship final) they compete to present hilarious, overpriced, buzzing adverts of famous people. Hidden advertising in films and series became the norm, and then came reality shows – programmes in which obviously unprofessional people make unforgettable impressions in increasingly idiotic quiz shows, spend weeks locked in a cage with other peers, or get shipped off to a remote atoll to eat bacarozzi and swim among snakes.
Full stop. I am not a moralist, and I believe that this trend is unstoppable – and that it is impossible to set a limit to bloody violence, which is what bothers me the most, since the obsessive representation of carnality only has the effect of diminishing the desire to mate, and I don’t give a damn about that. I think it’s the same effect as football and cooking on TV: you see so much of it, you don’t want to do it any more.
I belong to those who grew up not on women and champagne, but on wankers and gazillions. I am among those who are moved by a love story with a happy ending, and I am grateful to this new TV that has found space and money for alternative productions on really difficult subjects: organised crime, neo-colonialism, male brutality, commercial scams. It worries me, however, that after years in which TV anticipated the public’s barbarianisation, it is now once again being forced to chase it – as evidenced by the existence of a channel like Retequattro, which with its hysterical, squeaky-eyed moderators incites low-culture and middle-aged people to rage and savagery. The deification of the old woman sung by Fabrizio De André, who denounces Boccadirosa to the Carabinieri, feeling like Jesus in the temple, because he can no longer set a bad example.
This development frightens me, because it happens in parallel with the destruction of the semblance of democracy in the United States, which has been a symbol for decades for us defeated by war and fascism, and because it happens at the same time as a war erupts on our borders, an unprecedented ecological, industrial, economic and social crisis, and a winter of consciences that promises to be long and harsh. The transmission of the glorification of the army in a Germany that, after 1945, suffered years of collective guilt over the Holocaust, is the one that most disturbs me. But it also seems to be the one that attracts the most viewers and ad buyers.