Re: Bravo

by Neil

Yesterday, RIP DCB gives us a case study: a reality TV star breaks the fourth wall, and the network leaves it in as a limited hangout.” This is an amazing example if you’re a reasonably generous reader. Today, I’m going to be a stingy reader.

The case of reality TV strikes me as different from other cases of information asymmetry. If you’re the CIA orchestrating a coup, there are pretty clear advantages to disrupting the information state. Depending on what they believe on the ground,” the military may resist you less effectively, or not at all. But how does the truth about reality TV cash out”? It’s not immediately obvious. I’m unlikely to ever interact with anyone featured on Real Housewives, so nothing directly informs any of my future decisions. So why does the network care what I know?

It seems to me that the Bravo” moment trades off one kind of truthfulness for another. The fourth wall break draws attention to the artificial nature of the production — but wow, she must really be heated about this affair, if she was willing to go so far to try to get it off camera! I may feel vaguely less confident in the format of the show, as a whole, but I feel more confident in what I know, specifically, about this person.

And actually, do I even feel less confident in the show? Hasn’t the show has fulfilled its contract with me in the purest possible form — shown me an irruption of reality, something too real for TV”? The meta” layer is perfectly germane to reality TV. Any time I watch a competition show like Survivor or The Bachelor, my friends always speculate on what narrative the producers are trying to set up — based on the idea that, for instance, that they usually want you to like the winner by the end, and that they’ll work backwards to set that up. Nobody believes that what we’re seeing is a representative, fair, and balanced account. Who would admit to being so naïve? Well, yeah, obviously it’s all set up and stuff. Everyone knows that.”

Which is all to say, this looks like a pretty good deal for Bravo. They’re getting a moment of fireworks, a moment that really connects the audience with a character, and what they have to pay for it isn’t even clearly an expense. Going even further, if the ambiguity between the reality” or unreality” of the content is itself content, then this would be a win-win scenario, wouldn’t it?