Publication Details

Buchanan, I. 2001, 'Enjoying 'reality TV'', Australian Humanities Review, no. 22, pp. 1-8.


Big Brother, Boot Camp, Castaway, Shipwrecked, and the oh-so-glamorous Survivor, how much 'Reality TV' can we stand? More to the point, why do we want any of it? In other words, why do any of these shows even exist, what fantasy need do they fulfil? The temptation to invoke 'voyeurism' at this point is almost irresistible and is to be resisted for precisely that reason; the ease with which it seems to answer the questions begged by 'Reality TV' should be sufficient to alert us that it is what de Certeau calls a 'black sun', that is, something which however much it warms us and makes us feel good inside in actuality sheds no light. And if that isn't enough, then one simply has to remember that in the Freudian scheme of things the naked satisfaction of our innermost desires always attracts self-reproach. So for 'Reality TV' to be truly voyeuristic it would have to provide the means of suppressing any knowledge of this particular desire: it could only be voyeuristic and truly satisfy the voyeuristic impulse insofar as it neither looked nor felt like voyeurism. But, to begin by assuming that the essential direction of the gaze is us looking at them, and in being so is exclusively uni-directional, is, as it were, to get off on the wrong foot.