Sunday, May 31, 2009

Battle Royale--What is Reality TV Came to This?

A friend of mine recently sent a movie to me - a Japanese film from the early 2000s called Battle Royale. Once I found the subtitles feature I decided to give it a try, and as the minutes unfolded, I could believe my eyes less and less. The movie is representative of a trend towards increased extremeness in Asian cinema, and the nature of the plot - an elimination challenge - is highly similar in many ways to reality TV that was emerging at the time.

The movie itself is difficult to take seriously, mostly because of the absurd premise that directors barely even attempt to rationalize. In the new millennium, the corrupt government, attempting to crack down on the increasingly disruptive youth, passes a law that requires one selected junior high class of fifteen year olds to be taken to an island and enter a “Battle Royale.41 children, armed with maps, food, and one random weapon, must fight to the death until one remains. If no winner emerges after three days, the collars placed on everyone’s neck explode, killing them. Ready? Go.

Battle Royale is simply an exploration of how these children choose to play the game. Some hide, some kill themselves in protest, some work together, and some choose to be assassins. Strategies and alliances play out in a way not so different from Real World/Road Rules challenges, and no one can be trusted. After every death scene, the movie displays updates on recent eliminations and how many remain. The game is compelling in and of itself, but watching teenagers slit each other’s throats and jump off cliffs adds, well, shock factor too. This bloodbath of innocents is obviously not meant for the squeamish, or for the Japanese government, but someone digs it - at the Japanese Academy Awards, the film was nominated for best picture in 2001.

Battle Royale can’t really be considered a reality program, but it is really is just the most extreme version of the reality formula. And despite the ridiculousness of the basic premise, the vapidity of the ending, or the convoluted and unnecessary flashback sequences, the movie is largely successful just based on the elimination structure and shocking content. I hesitate to call it a logical next step in the realm of shows like Fear Factor or MXC, but it does seem to evoke some of the same thoughts - “what would I do if I were in that game?” or “how much of my humanity would I give up for the prize?” (in this case, not dying.) Still, America probably isn’t ready for this movie; distribution issues were further complicated by Virginia Tech and most of us don’t really take kindly to watching children die.

Either way, despite the shortcomings, I personally found myself thoroughly captivated while watching Battle Royale, and if you think you can stomach it, it’s worth most of the two hours.

Reuben Moss

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New York, If Only You Could Hear Us.

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A review of New York's latest, by Brooke Smith

Tiffany Polard, better known as, New York has made a career out of reality TV. Her newest, and possibly most infuriating show is titled “New York Goes to Work,” a show in which viewers at home pick odd jobs for New York to complete. Jobs include such grueling and difficult tasks as being a gardener, a cafeteria worker or a receptionist. 

Does anyone else find something troubling about a television show in which ordinary everyday jobs, we otherwise wouldn’t care less about, are made entertaining just because New York is doing them? It seems to me that the show’s producers are making a mockery out of hard working people by throwing New York into their environments for a single day and then making a TV show around it. Even more offensive is how much money New York gets for doing one satisfactory day on the job. New York receives $10,000 if she completes her basic tasks.

 For example, in one episode she had to work at a nudist colony. What was asked of her was beyond simple. Instead of cleaning the rooms and checking in guests, New York focused on how unattractive the naked bodies around her were and refused to make the bed out of laziness. In fact, she often complains of broken nails and unflattering uniforms but somehow manages to get the $10,000 check from some of her employers(this is usually a byproduct of her overexposed cleavage).  In an economy where unemployment rates are higher than ever, people are getting laid off every week and college graduates from top schools are having difficulty getting jobs.  Tiffany Polard, with a high school education and no skill set, can get $10,000 in a single day.

At the beginning of each show New York addresses her audience as “America” and I suppose she feels justified in doing this since audience members text to choose her next job, but in reality New York—you are not the President so please don’t refer to your television audience as America. If America could respond back to you we would all give you a resounding: shut up!  

Monday, May 18, 2009

Capturing College Life

If I had a dime for everyone I’ve met in college who’s told me that they thought their dorm would make a decent reality television show, I’d have – well, about a dollar twenty, but that’s considerable given the fact that I most of my conversations are not, surprisingly enough, about reality television. And I’d have to agree with this statement – I live with some amazing, odd and interesting people and, knowing them the way I do from living with them, I would probably watch their antics on TV.

Then I saw the premier of MTV’s new show College Life.

I was about ten minutes into the show when the realization struck me -- I was wasting my life watching it.

These people are nothing like the people I live with. From the second the camera starts rolling they are flat and easy to define – we have the drunk jock who can’t focus on academics, we have a mixed race boy who seems to define himself entirely in terms of ethnicity, we have a girl who still hangs out with a possessive ex regularly, and another who has – well guy drama of some sort or other. They’re all decently attractive, of course, and know how to whine with the best of them. Ultimately, they made me a bit ashamed that this was the impression viewers would get of college life. Where was the depth? Where was the passion (for things besides beer and sex, at least)? Where were the friendships or the odd antics or the random conversations about which breakfast food you would most like to wear, if you had to wear one? (The answer, by the way, is sliced bread).

Of course, I’m sure (read: I hope) that, in person, these people have more going for them. Being on reality television, however, seems to flattens them. Compare this with another show – or rather, a web feature, called Dorm Life, a "mockumentary" following one floor of a dorm at an undisclosed college (watch it at In other words Dorm Life is College Life... except scripted and considerably better. Where College Life boasts, “This isn’t ‘reality.’ This is real”, Dorm Life runs with the tagline “This isn’t real life. This is dorm life.”

The funny thing is, Dorm Life seems infinitely more compelling and real than College Life. Dorm Life provides some truly ridiculous characters as well but, as satire, is able to tap into something much more relatable through this comedy. College Life cannot say the same. It seems odd that something scripted can seem more “real” than something that claims to be real, yet the nature of reality televisions seems to be necessarily removing and redefining its participants. Fiction, however, just tries to be good – the rest falls into place.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Toddlers & Tiaras doesn't take the crown

Toddlers & Tiaras on TLC explores the world of children beauty pageants by following contestants and their parents as they prepare for competition as well as documenting the competition itself. In the first episode, we are introduced to three different families as they gear up for the upcoming Universal Royalty Pageant, which also has a category for mothers to compete in. The first two families introduced are the Alley family and the Jones family. Both focused on mother-daughter relationships. The Perez family differed from the first two in that the main parental involvement came from the father, David Perez. Another difference is the age of his daughter Ava, who is two, whereas the other featured girls are six (Rebecca Alley) and nine (Meaghan Jones). Surprisingly, this mattered very little because the show derived most of its drama and action from the parents while the kids are relatively boring. The parents themselves don’t vary much in demeanor. Stacey Alley stated, “Some people might say well you’re obsessed with pageants. Obsessed? Maybe.” This pretty much described the other parents, who are cheerfully obsessed with their children’s pageantry. They’re overbearing but not suffocating, probably due to the fact that their kids somewhat enjoy and mostly comply with their demands. This lack of variety was disappointing-- one family pretty much told the story of the others.

The actually competition itself wasn’t too interesting. There’s a reason the Miss America pageant has been declining in ratings in recent years; there’s just not enough entertainment value by today standards in modeling casual wear, evening wear, and swimsuits. This can be seen anytime on the Home Shopping Network. There is the talent portion, however. Unfortunately young children are not very talented, especially the 2-3 age group. Beyond running around on stage and playing with a baton, there isn’t much a two-year old can do. Ava was no different, though she did do a “back-flip” with the assistance of her dad, who was shocked when this didn’t get her a title. The older groups weren’t much better, with both Rebecca and Meaghan doing dance routines. The mother’s portion of the pageant went by uneventfully, with the moms realizing that their kids are even more amazing than originally thought. The only real drama on the show was the Jones family arriving late. One of the judges stated, “We’re waiting on Meaghan, and it is an unusual situation and judging someone who’s late, it can be a detriment.” Apparently, it wasn’t too much of a detriment, because Meaghan ended up winning the highest title in the contest. The ending of the pageant was not as exciting as anticipated. There was no real drama from not getting the grand prize, since there are pity trophies and more pageants to be had in the future. Also, Meaghan’s big win wasn’t all that great as she almost expected it. Overall, Toddles & Tiaras lacked excitement, and the parents’ enthusiasm just wasn’t enough to give it life.

Kimberly Kreitinger

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"This isn't 'reality'...this is real"

Lately, MTV has been scrambling to find new shows to shove into its primetime slots. With The Hills in its last season (or so they say…) and The City getting not-so-good viewership, producers have been announcing major additions to the channel’s lineup, including College Life, a low-budget reality show that chronicles the lives of a handful of University of Wisconsin—Madison freshmen.

College Life is completely self-produced by the participants. Each student is given a $500 camera (provided by MTV) and is instructed to film any and everything that they think might make good television. Needless to say, the quality of production is subpar at best. With out of focus shots, missing pivotal moments, and less-than-entertaining dialogue, it’s easy to see that reality television is scripted for a reason.

MTV does do a pretty good job of getting a diverse group of relatable students to shoot, though. Here are a few of the most interesting characters:

Andrea: Born in Wisconsin, she’s a devout Christian committed to saving herself for marriage even in the midst of her many boyfriends—one of whom is JJ, a big beefy athlete. Her high-school ex-sweetheart, Josh, also attends the school, and they hang out. A lot. Way more than exes should. Conveniently, Josh is also a virgin. This week, Andrea “breaks up” with Josh “for good.” Prediction: a Lauren Conrad-Stephen Colletti-Kristin Cavallari-type love triangle, except this time the girl’s the player.

Jordan: This half Jamaican, half Canadian freshman grew up in the conservative town of Wheaton, Illinois. And he never lets you forget it. Lately, he’s been having some issues dealing with his family life. He got a $2400 tattoo (a little excessive, don’t you think?) across his arm instead of paying his mom back for tuition, so, naturally, she cuts him off. Prediction: he gets a job, and he has a hard time making friends because of his mixed heritage and unique situation. No one could possibly understand.

Kevin: College would be incomplete without your regular beer-bellied party animal. From Minnesota, Kevin is that guy you know down the hall that won’t stop blasting music and playing beer pong even though it’s 1 A.M. the night before finals. He likes filming himself drinking, especially if he happens to be chugging Natty Ice and making a fool of himself. He’s been having some trouble with school and has gotten written up three times for alcohol violations. This week, he was officially kicked out of housing. Prediction: a bachelor pad for Kev with a built-in beer pong table and more of the same old, because watching drunk college students is way more entertaining than watching them study.

Even though the plots are boring and the camerawork is hard to follow, MTV deserves some credit for backing off and allowing kids to recreate themselves through this show. It will be interesting to see where these kids take their stories. Although UW-Madison doesn’t endorse the show, the tagline “this isn’t ‘reality’…this is real” seems to hold true, and their struggles, conversations, and attitudes hit home. And after all, MTV doesn't care whether you love it or hate the show, only whether or not you're watching it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Super High Me

This is a documentary by comedian, Doug Benson as he studies the effects of marijuana use. The title and main idea of this documentary is borrowed from the famous documentary: Super Size Me, which follows a man who eats nothing but fast food for a month and records the effects that the greasy fast food has on his health. Similarly, Super High Me follows Doug Benson as he studies the effects that marijuana consumption produces.

The idea is for Benson to smoke weed at every single opportunity that he has over a one month period. He will smoke more than the average recreational marijuana smoker, to amplify the results. This is similar to what the host of Super Size Me did by consuming more fast food than the average person, in order to get the most conclusive results.

First, Doug Benson takes some preliminary tests to get a baseline to compare his results to. These tests include: blood pressure, lung capacity, IQ test, and a psychic test. The documentary then proceeds to follow Benson as consumes marijuana in every possible way that he can think of.

At the end of the documentary, Benson retakes all of the tests that he had taken at the start of the show. The results showed that his blood pressure improved drastically, his lung capacity was lowered, his IQ test remained virtually unchanged (he did a little bit better), and his psychic ability was doubled. Benson was actually very surprised by the results and stopped smoking weed for two weeks for one last follow up round of tests. After the two weeks of sobriety, all of his results returned to normal showing that there were no permanent harmful effects apparent from the tests that he had taken.

The documentary turned out to be more entertaining than educational. The tests (especially the psychic test) were kind of inconclusive and could have been done more thoroughly. Overall, this documentary was funny but it wasn't really worth the time it takes to watch it. It was too long of a documentary to end on inconclusive results.

-Kyle D