Reality Television Finally Defeats Reality

We are all well aware that the scenarios and events in reality television are for the most part scripted and the only sense in which they are real is that the dialogue involves a little ad-libbing and people are actually fired when the script declares them to be fired. Although this is a little ridiculous, it really is nothing more than idiotic entertainment so who cares?

TV channels also prepare scripts to help them cover real events such as hurricanes, sports games and parades. These events usually have a relatively predictable schema and a script can be prepared with a few grey areas to account for the occasional failures of the real world to live up to the standards of tv broadcasters. Again fair enough.

But what happens when one of these scripted events really fucks up and stuns the nielsen-obsessed choreographers in the control room?

Well that's exactly what happened this weekend during the NYC Hot-air Balloon Thanksgiving Parade (i've decline to use the name of the corporate sponsor).

One of the balloons had a disastrous encounter with a telephone pole that injured several spectators. As a result it did not cross the finish line where the camera's were rolling and the announcers were performing their carefully scripted sacharine gibbering.

Luckily I have an informant who was in the control room at the time and has transcribed the program directors reaction. Keep in mind that they did know that there had been a serious accident.

"We can't have fifteen second of empty air-time? And we certainly can't mention a disaster in connection with any of our divine and infallible corporate sponsors! WHAT IF PEOPLE CHANGE THE CHANNNEL!??!??!? AAAAAGGHHH!!!!"

At this point the father of three commited ritual suicide and his position was taken up by the sub-director, who decided, i'm not making this up, to run footage of the same balloon crossing the finish line in last year's parade!

Thank god the good people of the New York Times were on their toes and saw the discrepancy between reality and television. But what would have been the result had a terrorist set off a suitcase nuke and wiped all of NYC of the map? Would the networks have run all of last year's parade to prevent widespread panic and a decline in shopping? Who knows maybe the patriots lost the superbowl last year and it was deemed unamerican and replaced with computer-generated footage of them winning? How are we to know?

As a doomologist, what bothers me most is not so much that this happened, but that it would occur to someone in broadcasting to do this. It demonstrates the extent to which scripting and ratings have taken priority in their minds over the truth. What this event tells us is that in such a situation broadcasters cannot accept that the script has failed. Instead the believe that reality has failed to match the script and must be altered.

Their are dark, matrixy days ahead of us if this is how the comptrollers of the world media think.

Here's the first few paragraphs of the NYtimes article:

NBC did not interrupt its broadcast of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade yesterday to bring viewers the news that an M&M balloon had crashed into a light pole, injuring two sisters.

In fact, when the time came in the tightly scripted three-hour program for the M&Ms' appearance, NBC weaved in tape of the balloon crossing the finish line at last year's parade - even as the damaged balloon itself was being dragged from the accident scene. At 11:47 a.m., as an 11-year-old girl and her 26-year-old sister were being treated for injuries, the parade's on-air announcers - Katie Couric, Matt Lauer and Al Roker - kept up their light-hearted repartee from Herald Square, where the parade ends.

"Will these classic candymen get out of this delicious dilemma?" Mr. Roker asked, referring not to the accident but to the premise of the attraction, a red M&M's attempt to save his yellow counterpart, who had been blown from the basket of a hot-air balloon.


Blogger me said...

That invoked a primal fear in me...

yup, even now, there are no words...more like a cluster chord in the lowest register of the keyboard.

11:42 p.m.  
Blogger Matthew Lie - Paehlke said...

really? I didn't find it anymore terrifying than say half of these posts. except for the good smell one, that wasn't scary at all.

3:13 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is very disturbing news. i have not read or remembered half of your posts, except for the one i just read about your book. it was not so disturbing.

in any case, perhaps it's nothing new, but it really shouldn't be up to observers to 'catch' reporters broadcasting a false representation of what happened.

but there are always going to be people who are willing to do the morally dubious in favour of furthering their own goals. we can't prevent this.

perhaps the most sickening part about this story is that there is no real repercussion.

people who design law and punishment need only to ask people which programs they expect to see the truth in. (yes, there will always be editorializing, but you can at least punish people for showing something that is completely false). these program should be carefully monitored, and transgressions severely punished.

maybe we should just have disclaimers before every program that informs us if we are about to watch truth or fiction.

the truth of news programs should be a protected right. i wonder if our lawyer friends can tell us why it isn't?

6:35 p.m.  

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