Big Brother: Reality TV in the Twenty-First Century by J. Bignell

By J. Bignell

Jonathan Bignell provides a wide-ranging research of the tv phenomenon of the early twenty-first century: fact television. He explores its cultural and political meanings, explains the genesis of the shape and its dating to modern tv construction, and considers the way it connects with, and breaks clear of, genuine and fictional conventions in tv.

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This argument for an apocalyptic end of television history is dependent on comparing Reality TV to documentary’s past but differentiates Reality TV from that past and makes it seem like a separate development. And yet, because Reality TV continues to focus on the moment of the present and on recognizably actual people, places and events, sometimes through live or nearly live transmission, it is also relentlessly in the here-and-now. Unlike earlier kinds of documentary, Reality TV is not a form that attempts to mould the future by intervening explicitly in the world of its viewers.

In these respects, Reality TV seems to float free of history, existing in a continuous present, and thus looks to its critics like an irresponsible television form. However, these value judgements can only operate on the basis of the comparative and developmental narratives that this chapter has explored. The remaining chapters in this book focus on different ways of conceptualizing Reality TV, in order to argue that it should instead be understood as a nodal point or conjunction of the temporally shifting traditions in television production, perceived audience demands and in critical discourse.

The question of whether documentary even had the possibility to renovate itself opens up the issue of whether documentary was playing a dangerous game with its own death, putting some kind of end to its distinguished twentiethcentury history. 26 Big Brother: Reality TV in the Twenty-first Century The advent of Reality TV has been an occasion for commentators to lament the death or terminal illness of several television forms and traditions. These include the death of variety where in the past a programme form comprising a mix of performances from comedians, singers, magicians and dancers and anchored by a celebrity such as Cilla Black or Bruce Forsyth would form the core of an evening schedule.

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