Humans have always felt a kind of fascination with the possibility of being an anonymous witness of the life of other human beings. The reality of the (un) known seduces, traps and, often, captivates more than our own.
No one escapes that desire. All individuals share the natural curiosity to know what happens inside a strange house, how its inhabitants live, what they do in their moments of rest…
For many people, that interest becomes a voyeurism, a behavior in which spying on others – who don’t know that they are watched – produces a sexual pleasure. But the carnal satisfaction is not the sole motivation of voyeurs. Over time, the millennial delight to watch has been set to different times in a constant transfiguration, to the pace of social and technological change. That’s why in recent years of the twentieth-century and the dawn of the twenty first century, voyeurism has suffered the most important and accelerated diversification of its history.
The development of new technologies, the emergence of the Internet and its profound impact on much of the world’s population, meant that the voyeuristic practice was not limited only to situations of erotic nature and began to cover such everyday experiences as sex, although less provocative.
Suddenly, the network of networks began hosting dozens of sites where uninterrupted access to live images of any aspect of the life you imagine is offered: the dining room of a family, inside the refrigerator of a college student and even the inside of a taxi driver in New York.
The reaction of this dose of "reality” was impressive. The demand grew exponentially and with it, increased the number of people who wanted to reveal to the world their privacy. For example, seven Costa Rican women joined this cyber group when they started to live in a house equipped with 20 video cameras that were capturing everything they did, 24 hours a day. By paying a fee, ranging from $ 24.95 to $150, the peepers are entitled, from the comfort of their computers, to recreate themselves with the images of these women in the bedroom, in the bathroom or sunbathing.
The internet is the kingdom of this kind of entertainment, but the new voyeurism, as experts have called this phenomenon - has taken over the television as well.
The reality shows, those programs that are filming ordinary people so others can see their "normal” behavior, have become the main attraction of television programming in Europe and United States.
The dynamics of these spaces is to bring together a group of people and "lock” them in a house or on an island for a period of time during which they are recording everything they do: from brushing teeth, cooking or sleeping until they find a suitable partner for themselves. Each week millions of viewers tune in those productions that are mixing fiction and reality and is difficult to determine which is predominating.
What is clear, is that behind this social manifestation are gathering elements that are so diverse as the mere mercantile interest and the human need to spot some of the ordinary lives of people in society that reward the exceptional and promotes the material.
The VTV or voyertelevision is based on the culture of celebrity, at the same time popularizing it. In these programs, anyone can be a hero, all that is needed is a willingness to expose its tantrums, embarrassments, and moral wrongs before the big camera. Such a free selection of persons participating in reality shows allows the distributions to have an ethnic and sexual variety that is not normally seen on television. In addition, the characters are shown as more or less authentically "built” by the industry than the traditional stars of popular fiction series. This allows for a greater identification between the viewer and the characters, because what appears on screen is similar to what happens in "real life”.
But, as much as it is similar to everyday life, that television reality is nothing but a cold representation made by the media. According to a lot of experts, the product that is transmitted is the result of a process of prior preparation that happens behind the scenes and it is not revealed. When the production work is hidden, the effect of the reality persuades the viewer, comprehending as if is real something that is nothing more but prepared.
The movie, The Truman Show (1988), starring Jim Carrey, recreates what has been said above. On the tape, the entire life of the protagonist is transmitted on television without him knowing it. His every move is filmed and followed by millions of viewers who believe they are seeing the reliable daily life of a normal person. But, neither Truman nor the millions of people who follow his existence on television suspects that everything is a montage of the entertainment industry.
That is what today are doing the major television producers. According to recent studies, US viewers are tired of Hollywood speech, full of extraordinary characters and artificial stories. That dissatisfaction has made people turn their eyes towards communication products that focus more on private aspects of other people, rather that exploiting the fantastic and amazing details.
Flower of a day?
All this madness of VTV was born in Netherlands, with a program called Big Brother. For two months, nine people were detained in an area completely controlled by 24 television cameras and 59 microphones. The prize of $150.000 was for the person that wasn’t expelled by the millions of viewers who tuned the space every week and who voted by phone or over the Internet. The records of Big Brother’s audience were so impressive that different versions began to occur in countries such as Spain, Serbia and United States.
There have also been other proposals in the television voyeurism. The most successful has been Survivor, from the US network CBS. The program consists of leaving sixteen people on an island without human presence. At the same time, they had to manage to find food and lodging, they had the winner of $1 million. Every fifteen days, the inhabitants of this island monitored by the best television technology, gathered around a campfire to decide which – through a voting – which companion to expel. Three weeks of its release, the ratings of Survivor were over the top. The impressive success of the new voyeurism has made companies encrypt their business hopes in these spaces. But the results have not been positive on long terms.
In the Netherlands, the program that replaced Big Brother was a complete failure: it was seen by 5,7 percent of viewers compared to 53 percent who watched the first show. In the US, the version of Big Brother failed to obtain the levels of popularity reached by Survivor.
Other realities that have become two of the highest-rated reality TV shows not only in the US but in other countries as well are The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. In addition to the vast audience, they have on social networks. Both programs revolve around a dating game in which the bachelor or the bachelorette have to choose a contestant from a group of 25 to start a romance with. At that moment, they begin to have individual dates and with the ones who aren’t nominated (the contestant is eliminated by not receiving the rose), there will meeting and dates with the family of the bachelor/bachelorette and the few remaining contestants. Finally, he or she chooses one, which is declared the winner of that season.
The behavior of the ratings for these productions questions its permanence. Apparently, they possess a fleeting popularity that arose as a consequence of the impression that causes every novelty. These shows can be attractive at first because they show routine situations that usually are not shown on the television. But, after a few weeks, the routine becomes ordinary and losses its charm.
The interest that seems inexhaustible is the need to spy on how other people live through television or through the Internet. This postmodern voyeuristic attitude happens, in part, due to a trivialization of the privacy. The viewers consume this product because they are attracted and identify with the images they see but probably would refuse to exhibit their private life for the enjoyment of others. That is precisely one of the biggest attraction of reality TV: watch from the safety of your home and an almost omnipotent position in the lives of others. What motivates those on the other side of the screen? Is it worth what is gained by losing your privacy? In the era of multimedia, many individuals believe that they are someone if they appear in the media. This, ultimately, influences the behavior of those who volunteer to be observed. Many will see in Big Brother or other voyeuristic cyber site the less complicated trampoline to achieve fame and make money. The downside of this new voyeurism is that it is planned. Curiosity is spontaneous; but here they offer it on a platter and they propose to you for what you should feel curiosity. How much of you out there are curious enough to participate in a reality show and find yourself on the other end of the screen?