My Year 10 English teacher Miss Sweeney set us a question in an exam: “Conflict is the essence of all drama. Discuss”.
That aphorism has stayed with me for 46 years! I’ve often reflected on how I might answer it again.
It’s helped me make sense of how the mass media posits what its various agencies present to us. Income (from the public or the private purse) is derived from ratings, ratings are derived from attracting people to watch or listen, and humans love a story with drama and drama needs conflict. So, any presentation of mass media needs to set up some kind of conflict in order for the whole show to work, and for the public or private money to keep flowing in.
I’ve heard that SBS are setting up a number of Christians in a house in some kind of “reality” television show.
We’re aware enough now of the way these shows are constructed. People are taken out of their normal context, “hot-housed”, and set up for drama. The shows are constructed to set up a conflict, to create drama, and often the production houses that make these shows have only as secondary concerns the mental health of the participants or that some light might be shone, some deeper understanding of the human condition revealed.
The little I’ve seen of these types of shows, they remind me of the “freak” shows of the 19th century. Observers can see something at their convenience—with distance and safety—that they have heard about. The observer can sit and judge from a distance and assuage their curiosity. Yet these shows were rightly judged as demeaning and disrespectful. I wonder how history will judge “reality” television.
So as you watch, remember there’s no such thing as an objective, detached observer. Our story and assumptions will inevitably be evoked, and the imperatives of mass media mitigate against revelation and deeper wisdom.