Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Tonight I heard five witty, accomplished writers talk about reality television and I didn't hate them for it. See, I'm a little bit of a snob about so-called "reality" programming. But REALITY MATTERS, a new collection of personal essays edited by Anna David has accomplished the miraculous. Through the precise observations of writers from James Frey to Neil Strauss I have come to adopt a new perspective. Reality programming is not just about gossip and exploitation and, well, fame. It's also about us. All of us.

Wendy Merrill, one of the panelists reading tonight, is also a memoirist. In her essay How to Survive a Bachelor Party, about The Bachelor, she writes: "...I got all Barbara Walters on my ass and and decided to ask the really tough question: why do I love to hate this show so much? ...The answer was a tough one. I loved to hate this show, because these women were me." Merrill further commented in the Q&A that followed tonight's presentation, that in her book Falling Into Manholes: The Memoir of a Bad/Good Girl she also dealt with the complication of drunken blackouts. Even so, every writer chooses the best words and puts them in the best order. And in television, this is what a story editor does with pictures.

As the writer of a memoir, I have come to understand how memory works. I remember different moments than, say, my sister does. And I remember those moments with my own bias. So, everything I write is told through the filter of my lens. There is honesty, but there is no objectivity, much as I may strive for it. Even memoirs like Danzy Senna's Where Did You Sleep Last Night, which began as more of a family history, have a point of view. And that point of view dictates so much of the "reality" that is being communicated. In television, the point of view is that of the story editors, the producers, even the network.

Lets take it one step further. As I sat discussing The Hills and Hoarders with some of the smartest voices I've heard on the subject I realized something. What the authors of REALITY MATTERS showed me is that reality Television truly is in the eye of the beholder. The pleasure is only as guilty as the viewer.

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