“I’m a woman who’s never had an orgasm and I’ve been faking”. “That is the story of my life”. “I thought I was shit as a woman and I’m still dealing with that today. I don’t accept myself, I don’t accept myself”… Actress Lola Herrera spat such heart breaking statements about sexual repression and low self esteem to the face of his real life ex-husband, an alcoholic Daniel Dicenta, on the Josefina Molina’s mockumentary Función de noche (Night Performance). It was 1981, sixteen years before John de Mol invented the Big Brother format. The strangest thing about the movie, often underrated by our cinema critics, is that it was shot in a fake dressing room built within a studio where eight cameras were placed behind mirrors. The idea was to shoot this face-to-face between the two members of a broken marriage non-stop, until they almost forgot they were being filmed. Does that ring a bell? Yes, it’s a small version of a reality show. The result is clumsy and irregular, but it contains some cathartic and emotional striptease moments otherwise difficult to witness in most fiction movies. Which is exactly what one can say about reality shows.
To begin with, I think it’s important for me to say that I’ve been working on reality shows for seven years, and I want to keep on doing it. I’m neither a spy nor a deserter. For that reason, my perspective on the subject is not a very objective one at all. But, still, I think it is objectively true to say that the format has been shaking up the way in which television shows are made for the last fifteen years; that it has influenced other types of shows, and even fiction (The Hunger Games saga, for example); that it will be part of the sentimental education of several generations of audiences; that it has contributed (with social networks) to the deconstruction of the concept of intimacy, etc. Despite all of this, it’s also true that the format has always been subjected to an extremely poor analysis on behalf of journalists and communication experts: “Programmes that make people believe that you can make money without working or studying”; “contributions to the already low cultural level of the average Spaniard”; “trash TV”… You name it. The vast majority of our commentators have talked about them, and still do so today, with highbrow disdain, a little irony and a lot of scorn, as if any show appealing to millions of people couldn’t be the object of such scholarly and rigorous analysis as Lisandro Alonso’s films. Has anyone tried to understand at all why these shows are not a fad, but more popular today than when they first appeared? What is it that reality shows have in order to connect with so many people? Why are they the greatest entertainment form of our time?