Just when you think that it can’t get any better (or worse or perverse), the reality TV scene in India has taken a whole new turn with a new show on Star called The Moment of Truth. It’s an American ‘reality’ show where a person is asked the most intimate questions about his or her life. Prior to the show, the contestant is hooked up to a polygraph and asked more than 50 questions. Without knowing the results of the polygraph, he or she is asked 21 of those same questions again on the program, each becoming progressively more personal in nature. The questions vary, increasing in difficulty and degree of personal nature of the questions. Sample this, “Have you in all these years of your marriage ever cheated on your wife?” or this, “Have you gambled away any of your kids’ college fund?” Sometimes, a "surprise guest" - such as an ex-partner or a good friend - will come on the stage and ask a particularly difficult question. The more you answer the more you go on winning and the jackpot amount is $500,000, which no one, by the way, has won so far. You can imagine how popular the show is that we have it beamed in India now.
We humans are voyeuristic and we, the Indians, have forever been a pretty nosey and voyeuristic society. From the mundane “who’s daughter is going out with whom” to more serious nosey business, we just think it’s our right to know. The idea of ‘private space’ was never there. It still is not. No wonder the reality TV format with its camera shoved into people’s bedrooms works wonders in our country. Be it an adventurous Roadies or the very stupid, very perverse Splitsvilla, where 2 losers get to ‘dump’ girls on their way to choosing the ultimate girl for them (though it’s a different thing that the girls on the show are no better) to song and dance competitions to the Indian version of Stand Up, reality TV is there on all channels.
Another reason for the popularity of reality based programs is that anybody, be it a post office clerk from Jabalpur or an automobile workshop owner in Jalandhar can be on TV and have his 15 minutes of fame. I had read somewhere that each of us have our Oscar speech. Reality based programmes gives people an opportunity to read that out to the world. Reality TV churns out celebrities every week, every episode. People come on TV, they sing and dance, and if that doesn’t work, they cry and do everything in the world to garner support and sympathy. Perverse, you might say, but it’s working. Contestants find a launching pad, people get their voyeurism satiated and a sense of pride that their vote made the contestant win (no matter what the reason for voting, no matter how good or deserving the contestant actually is) and channels laugh all the way to their bank.
Pornography is the biggest form of voyeurism. In the eighties the porn industry fought and adapted and eventually boomed manifolds on the internet. So now, a Jenna Jameson ends up fighting for attention with an aunty from Lajpat Nagar thanks to the MMS craze. People want ‘live’ action, they want to know what’s happening in their stars lives, or even in the lives of others. The more we become insulated and isolated as a society, the more we want to voyuer into the other people’s lives. We might not be friends with our neighbour but we surely would love to anonymously be privy to what’s going on with them. What more it even gives us a chance to simulate their action, control their fate, however much of a make-belief control it actually might be. And Reality TV provides us with that opportunity. Call it perverse, intrusive, entertaining, immoral whatver you may, but one thing is for sure that Reality TV is here and it is here to stay.