By: Open Book
Today, reality T.V.is a favorite past time in America. Some say it began back in 1992 with a show called The Real World on MTV. But in fact, it began much earlier on PBS with a show called An American Family in 1973. The idea was the brainchild of a documentary film producer, Craig Gilbert in 1971. He believed Americans were tired of situational comedies about families, like The Brady Bunch, Father Know Best and Ozzie and Harriet and wanted to try something new. But it’s important to mention, in 1973, 100,000 Americans lost jobs due to a number of US car manufacturers closing plants. Needless to say, when An American Family aired in 1973, the show was a major success making it one of the most watched shows on PBS and it lasted for 12 episodes. So what does all this have to do with American actors loosing jobs to International actors? A lot!
Many famous film actors in America today started their careers on television. In fact, this year’s Oscar nominated actress Michele Williams started her career doing television. Williams got the most attention as an actor on Dawson Creek and let’s not forget, Jennifer Aniston on Friends, Leonardo DiCaprio on Growing Pains and George Clooney on E.R. All of them and many more have come up the ranks using television as a stepping-stone into film. Now, one can surmise by way of T.V. American actors not only honed there acting chops, but also their popularity. In the 1990’s before Twitter, Google, YouTube, Facebook and IMDb, the way actors demonstrated there was a demand for their craft was through T.V. and tabloids!!
In the olden days, a television show’s Nielsen ratings each week, was an indicator on how well (a film staring a television actor) might do in theaters. Yet, if you are apart of an ensemble cast like Friends or E.R. how does one stand out from the crowd? Oh! How about our friendly tabloid magazine? Tabloid media is big business in America and over-saturation was the way many up and coming actors tried to boost their popularity in the 90’s. Tabloid media, combined with high television ratings, was key in launching Jennifer Aniston’s film career.
Let’s revisit what impact Reality T.V. personalities has had on American actors jobs in Hollywood. America’s growing addiction to celebrity scandal today is a kissing cousin to reality T.V. Why? You could say the 1994 O.J. Simpson trial started the obsession when millions tuned in to watch O.J. stand trial for murder. Add to that, the 1989 police exploitation reality T.V. shows like COPS where low-income citizens and minorities were hunted down and handcuffed and carted off to jail, the show lasted 23 seasons. The mass consumption of these “real crime situations” caused reality T.V. and celebrity scandal media to explode. Therefore, setting the stage for reality and talk shows like Jerry Springer to become increasingly vulgar and exploitative of low-income individuals. The late 90’s and early 2000, were the years of making celebrities of “real people” under “real crisis situations” like socialite Paris Hilton who starred in the reality TV show The Simple Life, which again mocked Americans who worked and lived in rural areas away from the wealthy.
In light of the changing climate and Americas growing obsession with reality shows like Survivor, The Simple Life, The Bachelor and many more. Actors who use to rely on situational comedies and dramas to hone their craft began competing with “reality TV personalities” for jobs. Many believe American’s obsession with reality TV is due to the declining economy and middle class in America. In December 2010 issue of Psychology Today, Steven Reiss wrote an article called “Why America Loves Reality TV.” Reiss stated,…
“Reality TV allows Americans to fantasize about gaining status through automatic fame. Ordinary people can watch the shows, see people like themselves and imagine that they too could become celebrities by being on television……….”
Is it possible the reason American film actors lack versatility and preparedness because they’ve been replaced with “reality TV personalities” who are not actors? In the past, television was the way actors honed their craft before moving into film. Today actors are being told they’re not “popular” or “authentic” enough to relate to the American public. We have allowed our rich culture and hard work ethic in America to be replaced with fantasies of automatic fame without doing the work. So much so, reality TV personalities are now trying to move into film as well. In fact, in a article it was reported Kim Kardashian star of the popular reality show” Keeping up with the Kardashian’s tweeted to James Cameron recently for a part in the next Avatar film. Really? Perhaps “reality shows” are more fabricated than what we initially thought? This is supposedly the reason Joaquin Phoenix, as a hoax took a break from his Oscar award winning film career and decided to do a mockumentary I’m Still Here highlighting the influence of reality TV on American entertainment culture.
There is some light at the end. America has had a long period of unemployment, recession and let’s admit used reality TV as a pacifier during this period. Yet, now that the economy appears to be improving, Americans can see the negative impact reality TV and scandal media has had on our rich culture, creativity and values. Perhaps, Warner Brothers choosing another British actor to play an American iconic character like Superman, was the wake up call Americans needed to re-evaluate our cultural investments and work ethics in this country?