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Alejandro Navas, Professor of Sociology, University of Navarra, Spain

The illusion of casting

Thu, 04 Nov 2010 09:03:56 +0000 Published in Basque Newspaper

It has had a shaky start. Gran Hermano 12 is having a hard time getting back on track and reaching the speed of Wayside Cross, that is, a millionaire audience that would allow it to even top the ranking. It seems that, despite the care taken in the selection, the culprits of this worrying start would be some rather bland contestants. Something must be done to straighten the course, and core topic does not require too much imagination: sex. This is the 'original' bet that characterizes the record edition. On this occasion, men and women were initially separated in two houses, but only for a few days: after contacts by couples in the so-called 'dark room', the general mixing took place, in which the participants are expected to unload the sexual tension accumulated in the previous days. The channel has even coined a term to describe what will be its main activity from now on: 'edredoning'.

There was also a record number of candidates: some 62,000 people contacted the network at contact to formalize their application to registration , an increase of 24% over last year. This is not an exceptional or anomalous phenomenon: rather, it reflects very typical features of our current society.

Many people, especially young people, seem to see their life aspirations fulfilled with the presence, however fleeting, on a television set, which will ensure them a few minutes of notoriety, or more time if they are able to make a fuss and set up issue. YouTube has become a kind of planetary casting; on Facebook, Flickr and similar platforms, millions of people exchange photographs. As sociologist Geoff Cooper argues, everyone collaborates in the diffusion of this 'indiscreet technology', which allows the continuous reciprocal observation of millions of viewers.

The traditional criteria for achieving notoriety are no longer valid. In the past, you had to be someone (status) and do something remarkable in any field (merit) to get media attention. Fame is now democratized and anyone can aspire to it. The number of people who have 'appeared' on television is growing steadily issue , and not only for being in the audience of live programs. As is logical, this passage through the set, which is not supported by relevant successes, does not leave a mark either. The momentary advertising -and the correlative audience, since that is what it is all about- can be stretched if dramatic ingredients appear, linked to the sentimental and sexual adventures of the protagonists seasoned with the appropriate doses of conflict and violence. The case of Belén Esteban would be the paradigmatic example. The television establishment defends itself from criticism by giving a bias educational to the montage: the container of Gran Hermano or the academies of the contestants will appear as sociological laboratories or qualified educational centers. The idea would be to stimulate a culture of effort, something the country urgently needs, in view of the rampant school failure. In addition, there is the essential dramatic element, inherent to all competition: selection, qualifying rounds, final phase, triumph and defeat, future glory for the winner. To achieve this climax, the candidates must be carefully chosen to ensure an adequate distribution of roles. In any reality-show we will find more or less the same characters: the 'climber'; the conflictive villain; the sensitive unhappy one; the apparently anodyne one with a sinister past; the misunderstood genius; the one with equivocal sexuality; and so forth.

In a display of cynicism, the channels will sell us that group as a representative sample of our society. The producers, who manage the program behind the scenes, are in charge of dosing the morbidity, for which they will also count on 'spicy' elements of the contestants' past lives. And if, in spite of everything, the tension drops, a real celebrity can always be sent to the set to 'heat up' the show. There is very little reality in all this montage, but unfortunately the victims are real; precisely this authentic condition of the blood that runs ensures the audience's pull.

Something is wrong in our society when so many young people see their life expectations satisfied with the presence in this show. The fact that it is 'cool' to appear on television and become famous all at once does not seem to be a sufficient explanation. Parents, educators and responsible people in general should feel challenged by the part we have to play. After all, it is adults who benefit from the exploitation of the business.