Teaching US to Fake It – Nick Couldry

by 504student

Roland Barthes’s analysis of “myth” and is used for the particular type of media language used, especially in reality television. “[Television’s] real value is to make people participants in ongoing experiences. Real life is vastly more exciting than synthetic life, and this is real-life drama with audience participation” (quoted in Marvin, 1999). 

Couldry looks at the series Big Brother (UK version) as a gamedoc. Big Brother operates under the claim that it is real “within a fully manages artificiality” (Corner, 2002). The concept of the show is to follow the lives of the housemates as they perform various tasks. The competition part comes from a housemate being ‘voted out’ of the house at the end of every episode.

Reality television’s “ritualized form that enables them to be successfully reproduced without being exposed to questions about their ‘content’” (p.84-85). This allows for reality shows to be similar, but still new every time it airs. Media rituals are “actions that reproduce then myth that the media are our privileged access point to social reality, but they work through the boundaries and category distinctions around which media rituals are organized, not through articulated beliefs” (p.85). 

Reality shows are premised on the experience the cast goes through being real, or being based on ‘human nature.’ “The principle that ‘media experience’ automatically trumps ‘ordinary experience,’ including any questionable ethical dimensions it may have” (p. 93). 

In the case of Big Brother, the show is premised on there being cameras everywhere and the cast is always being watched, hence the title of the show. Having “Big Brother” always watching has real-life consequences, such as surveillance that is focused on criminal activity (closed-circuit TV).

Because the cast-mates are being watched, norms of how to behave in the house emerge: (1) “to give the public what they are assumed to want” and (2) “the unobjectionable but also vague norm of ‘being yourself’” (p.95). By putting on a persona that is based on them, they are creating a myth about themselves.