I confess that I’ve never been a fan of reality TV, but I can see why a lot of people find it appealing. It represents a fake reality that attempts to put a more realistic slice of everyday life on TV. People feel connected because they see it as the real story of the tangible, ordinary person. One of the recurring themes of reality TV is the concept of swapping. There are shows like “House Swap”, where people obviously swap houses. After that came “Wife Swap” (really, who watches these?!). Then there was a show called “Black.White” in which the participants swapped races (well, not really, but through heavy make-up it gave the outward appearance of swapping races). Even a show like American Idol was essentially swapping – placing ordinary Americans a situation where given enough talent and popularity, the contestant would swap his or her ordinary life to the celebrity lifestyle of a pop singer.

The other day in class as I watched the group presentation of the documentary “Waste Land” I thought, why did nobody do a swapping show the other way round? So instead of getting an ordinary person off the street to join a show like “The Apprentice” with the possibility of swapping their existing job with a ‘dream’ job of working for Donald Trump, we could have a rich magnate taking on the mundane job of an ordinary person. Perhaps we can go one step further and have the rich person work as say… a catadores? A recycler in Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill? I realise this doesn’t make for great entertainment value nor suit the target audience of reality TV. It’s sad though. It’s just that the idea seems really compelling to me. The media forces that be make sure that what doesn’t sell or doesn’t make money doesn’t get on air. Essentially this is censorship of what people need to be aware of. Wastefulness. Creation of waste. Creation of Waste Land. What we do get is advertisements telling us we need to buy this and we need to buy that. Constant bombardment of consumerism in our faces.

It’s interesting to compare the two documentaries “Waste Land” and “Manufactured Landscapes.” The former shows poor people working in a toxic environment but they are proud and upbeat, knowing that they are responsible for recycling and doing as much as they can with the resources at hand to save the of landscape of Brazil. Never mind the injustice of it all – the rich pollute and the poor save the environment, then the rich can continue to enjoy the environment. In the latter documentary though, recyclers appear visibly depressed, which may have to do with the much greater toxicity from the heavy metals and toxic fumes (a much more toxic environment). These two films have completely changed my view of consumption. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We should have a new saying updated for this information age – if it ain’t broke, don’t replace it. At least that’s what I’m going to do from now on.

 

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