Monday, 5 October 2015

Reality Check: The Absurdity of Serbian Reality TV

Reality TV – it’s all the fun of watching unlikeable people argue for hours on end, combined with all of the satisfaction of seeing uneducated people getting paid to do nothing. 

It’s important that I start by highlighting something pretty important; the term ‘reality’ is a pretty fluid concept, much like ‘summer weather’ and ‘duration of an Australian prime minister’s term in office.’  On top of that, ‘reality TV’ is playing pretty fast and loose with it.  From shows like “Farma” (The Farm) and “Maldivi” (The Maldives) to “Veliki Brat” (Big Brother) and “Parovi” (Couples), Serbian reality TV depicts reality in Serbia in the same way that “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” accurately depicts employment in a chocolate factory.  Or in the same way that the TV show “Real Housewives of Melbourne” depicts…. well, real housewives of Melbourne.  Not surprisingly therefore there’s been some backlash against reality TV in Serbia in the last few weeks in the form of petitions, protests and social media posts.

This is what the opposite of a 'fantastic four' looks like.

To illustrate the insanity of the situation right now, we have refugees from the Balkan wars of the 90s still living in makeshift shipping containers but we’re providing free housing for a TV show to convicted criminals and starlets with I.Qs that match their bra size.  In the show “Maldivi”, a large group of people are paid to stay in a studio reconstruction of a hotel in the Maldives.  In Serbia, many families struggle to pay for themselves to go on a short getaway to a real hotel in Romania.  In “Farma”, contestants have free housing and receive a steady pay-check at the end of each week.  That is in no way an accurate depiction of reality in Serbia.  Here’s an idea for a show; cameras follow an extended family living in an overcrowded flat, on the 5th floor of a building, which has no lift.  Each week, the family has to figure out a way to pay the increasing bills, food and living expenses on well-below average wage, which their employer is still 6 months late on paying.  Oh and here’s the kicker, the dad is a philosophy professor working as a taxi driver, the eldest daughter is a medical school graduate working at a retail outlet and the grandmother has her pension reduced each month.  When you see that on Serbian TV, you can start to call it “reality TV.”

This brings me to the contestants – a mixed bag of the worst of society in one place.  A combination of convicted criminals, yet-to-be convicted criminals, has beens, wannabes, men with untouched mono-brows and women with drawn-on eye-brows, people of no substance and others that are just substance abusers.  In one show you’ve got a guy with the nickname ‘Zmaj’ (Dragon) who, although he looks like one, would probably be rejected to reprise the role of Khaleesi’s pet.  Then you’ve got a bimbo who goes by the name ‘Tijana Iphone’ (I’m guessing because she’s largely made of plastic) and then another one called ‘Atina Ferrari’ who I can only assume goes by that name because any wealthy old Italian man can get inside her.  Then there’s Kristijan Golubovic, a convicted drug-dealer and armed robber.  The sad irony is that Kristijan Golubovic was once in a documentary called “See you in the Obituaries” and yet now we have to see him everywhere but there.  It would be remiss of me not to also mention Stanija Dobrojevic, a woman who’s basically famous for being famous.  She’s kind of the ‘Paris Hilton’ of Serbia, but with even less intelligence and no worldwide fame.  So I suppose she’s less of a ‘Paris Hilton’ and really more of a ‘Belgrade Hostel.’  I mentioned in a previous article that Serbs can lay claim to giving the world Nikola Tesla, the ‘man who lit the world.’  Well now it seems we’re giving attention to people that, let’s just say, aren't the brightest bulbs in the tanning booth.

Clockwise from top-left: Stanija Dobrojevic, Ilija Grahovac 'Zmaj',
'Tijana Iphone', Kristijan Golubovic.

It’s worth mentioning that people are doing it tough in Serbia, and it seems the producers of these shows don’t get that, or maybe they just don’t care.  I say this because it takes a special collection of jerks to produce reality shows where a collection of uneducated members of society are paid to not work, while the show is targeted at viewers who in many cases are educated but are unable to find work to match their qualifications.  It’s the equivalent of seeing the plight of disease, drought and poverty in Africa and then having a reality show there for upper class contestants called “The too much water, cash and free vaccination happy hour!”

Whether you watch reality TV in Serbia or not, you almost can’t avoid seeing these clowns and knowing who they are.  It bothers me that I can’t escape it.  It bothers me that I am aware of the names ‘Zmaj’, ‘Savija’ and ‘Ekrem’ yet I have to scour the internet to find the name of the director of a children’s hospital doing great work in Belgrade.  A friend showed me how on the leading Serbian news site, 7 of the top 12 news stories on the homepage were about these reality shows.  7 of 12!  To put that into context, that’s the equivalent of you buying a dozen eggs, then opening the pack and discovering the supermarket has replaced 7 of the eggs with marshmallows because even though they’re not what you’re after, they want you to try them.

Previous generation's entertainment versus the current generation's.
It's like a 'before & after' shot for crystal meth use in the Balkans.

So why are some people watching reality?  Perhaps the strangest reason I’ve heard is “well it was on TV.”  Well here’s the thing, just because a dog craps on your doorstep each morning next to your morning paper, doesn’t mean it’s your breakfast and you have to eat it.  And stop referring to reality TV as a guilty pleasure.  Ice-cream and Nutella are guilty pleasures.  This brand of reality TV is definitely not needed in Serbia.  If you really have your heart set on listening to a room full of people sitting at a long table shouting over one another, you don’t need a reality show, you have Slava (Saint’s Day celebration where relatives and friends gather).  Added to that, daily life is dramatic enough, if you want to hear gossip about other people’s lives you can talk to your baba and the people in real life are as attractive if not more so than the people on the television.

I suppose in the end, this is all you really need to know – reality TV serves no other purpose than this; to show us that we’re all human, but to remind us that there are people out there a little less human than the rest of us.  There are cheap and even free sporting events and live shows on every day and night in cities all over Serbia, so go find them, enjoy them and maybe even take part in them.  Supporting the arts, sports and academia will give us a future we can be proud of.  Reality TV just waters the weeds of society while the flowers dry-up and all we’re left with is a future we’ll surely be ashamed of.  At the heart of it, if given the option people will always welcome creativity before they take reality.  It’s why there’s a movie franchise called “Star Wars” rather than “Road Rage”.  So let’s create a better reality.  One where the criminals are imprisoned rather than being paid and the bimbo starlets remain anonymous rather than become famous.  One where the academics are employed and the artists are celebrated.  As I said, there has been some backlash against all of this – but not enough.  We have to realise that no matter how much the producers may call it “reality” TV, it’s actually a nightmare and it’s one we’re going to need to wake ourselves up from.

1 comment:

  1. Very well written and informative article. Thank you.