"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 28 February 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Enema Vérité



For those who prefer remote

control to the messier travails

of actual engagement, Real TV's

artful flux of affectless

daredevil snuff, uplifting kitty

resuscitations, heartland

wedding japery, and

spontaneously collapsing

orchestras is the reality

programming genre's richest

simulation of the world beyond

the screen; each weeknight, for

a brief half-hour, it is a

life-sized map of the world.


Brokaw and Rather and all the

other teleprompted bloviators

constantly remind you of their

mediating function:

contextualizing events,

conferring cultural significance

upon them, they're interpreters

of experience rather than the

thing itself. Real TV's host,

John Daly, assumes a far more

transparent role, segueing from

segment to segment with a facile

geniality that contains only

trace amounts of opinion. With

his animatronic blandsomeness -

he looks like misplaced '70s

media entity John Davidson with

downsized hair, or maybe Wally

Cleaver by way of Melrose Place -

he hardly even registers. You

get the sense that the set

designer threw him in as part of

the deal.



Released from the burdens of

relevance and meaning, Real TV

is free to concentrate on those

sundry incidents of extreme

action and emotion that make for

the best television: A boxer's

mother jumps into the ring and

starts whacking the head of her

son's opponent with the lethal

heel of her shoe; a man is

caught red-glanded by a hidden

camera as he pisses into his

coworker's coffee. What does it

all mean? Who cares? Real TV

even resists the moralizing that

the tabloids and the talk shows

indulge in to rationalize their

salaciousness. An event's

"realness" alone justifies its



Of course, Real TV's version of

the "real" is paradoxical; the

real, it implies, is anything

that's spontaneous, unscripted,

unmediated. This last value is

the troublesome one. If Real TV

subscribed to it completely, it

would have nothing to broadcast.

But the fact that life becomes

less real the moment anyone -

amateur or professional - starts

to videotape it is something

that Real TV is happy to work

around. For its purposes,

realness as a stylistic trope is

enough, as the show's

introductory animation

demonstrates: Instead of showing

images of actual events, it

simply cycles through myriad

instantiations of the word

"real" done in all the

usual-suspects cybergrunge

typefaces used to dress up

drivel as DIY.


But the hip typography is just

graphic foreplay. Real TV's

primary means of establishing

its authenticity are more

corporeal; in a good week,

you're likely to witness several

actual deaths: skiers crashing,

surfers snapping their necks,

daredevils falling off

airplanes. The realness of such

scenes is obvious; even if an

event is carefully

choreographed, with multiple

cameramen positioned in advance

to capture its details, a fatal

outcome is almost always

spontaneous: Death is the

ultimate blooper.



Nonetheless, the

surveillance-camera footage that

Real TV features is even more

compelling. While it generally

lacks the mortal consequences of

the death scenes, its

spontaneity factor is greater.

Indeed, surveillance cameras

have given us a whole new genre

of tedious suspense - call it

enema vérité. If you point a

camera at a cash register long

enough, eventually shit happens:

The suspicious-looking character

enters the store, leaps the

counter, and starts smashing his

fist into the clerk's head when

she doesn't follow his

instructions fast enough.


Even when Real TV presents

videotape as striking as that,

it never dwells on it for too

long. To do so would be to risk

contemplation - and if viewers

started thinking, they might

stop watching. In this respect,

Real TV is a lot like MTV: the

news as music video, a shifting

stream of imagery designed to

resist meaning via constant

retinal agitation. It's no mere

oversight that the show never

mentions when the events it

presents actually occurred: That

jockey could have been trampled

yesterday, or a week ago, or

maybe even a couple of years

ago. It really doesn't matter,

because Real TV is a timeless

environment, where everything

happens in the moment. The

closest it ever comes to a sense

of history is when it replays a

particularly compelling piece of

videography over and over - the

past as rewind button.


Geography is slightly more

apparent, but only in the most

superficial ways. Most often

it's invoked to add realness to

a segment; videotape from

foreign, less mediated countries

is presented, in the tradition

of Mondo Cane, as inherently

more authentic than that which

comes from the United States. In

addition, it's used as a kind of

narrative shorthand that

eliminates the need for more

satisfying explanation: Why are

those cops kicking and punching

their prisoners so brazenly? Oh,

they're Russian cops.


Beyond these uses, Real TV's

producers have little interest

in geography: They understand

that the TV nation is a nation

of one. And, thus, unlike other

shows in the reality genre, Real

TV makes no attempt to create

(or even acknowledge) a sense of

community. The studio audience

of America's Funniest Home

Videos is dispensed with, as is

the bank of telephone volunteers

of America's Most Wanted. In the

Real TV universe, the most

important elements are the

viewer and the segments;

intrusive talking head shots of

Daly and the show's reporters

are kept to a minimum. The

voyeur prefers self-service.



Of course, the passive

peeping-tomism that Real TV

encourages has its downside - in

time the show could run out of

material. Certainly there's no

shortage of people ready to

videotape mishaps and

catastrophes; one recent Real TV

episode featured a segment

submitted by a man who kept his

camera diligently trained on an

icy intersection as car after

car came along, spun out, and

crashed into things. Instead of

trying to warn motorists of the

potential danger, the man was

content to provide jovial,

couch-potato commentary for his

masterpiece's audio track: "Oh,

no, here comes another!"


But when we all become voyeurs

and videographers, who will be

left to perform the stupid

hijinx worth capturing on tape?

On another recent episode, Real

TV featured footage of a small

plane flying underneath a

suspension bridge. Accompanying

this spectacle came an

uncharacteristic moral

proscription from Daly: Real TV

was not showing this footage to

glorify its creators, he

admonished, but rather to warn

people about the illegal and

dangerous nature of stunts like

that. But this isn't Hard

Copyish hypocrisy; the real

message underlying the sentiment

is clear: Please, please, please

try this at home - we need the tape!

courtesy of St. Huck


Fish Image
The Fish

[Netscape Inbox Direct]

Barrel Image

The Barrel
[Suck predicts]

Gun Image
The Gun

Fish Teaser

net.moguls Link
Other Work By
St. Huck
Fresh Fish