Tuesday, November 9, 2010

French Entertainment, Celebrities and Reality TV

By: Sara Sutyak

Background on Roman Polanski:

Roman Polanski is a Polish Director that has made many universally recognized films such as The Pianist (2002) and Chinatown (1974). His parents were sent to concentration camps during WW2 when he was eight and his mother died in Auschwitz. After war he entered film school in Poland and became an international star with his first feature length film “Knife in the Water”. All his films were viewed to be jarring, threatening and violent. He moved to Hollywood and married Sharon Tate in 1968. She was pregnant soon after but was murdered by Charles Masons “family”. Polanski was completely devastated and moved back to Europe and obtained French citizenship but ultimately returned to Los Angeles.

Roman Polanski Scandal (1970s):

Roman Polanski was charged with unlawful sexual intercourse with a thirteen-year-old girl. He fled America and made a permanent home in France to escape extradition. He is currently being detained in Zurich, Switzerland under the order of Steve Cooley, the Los Angeles County District Attorney. Thirteen-year-old Samantha Gailey, a aspiring actress and model, was doing a photo shoot with Polanski in Jack Nicholson’s home (who was not present) when Polanski provided her with champagne and Quaalude to relax before they had sexual intercourse. He was arrested and plead guilty, but rather then head to the judge after his 42 days in jail during his evaluation period, he headed to the airport for France. The newly understood reason for his escape to France was because he was not treated fairly under California Law. The media showed an extremely negative point of view on Polanski and even seemed to use anti-Semitic descriptions for him. Moreover, the judge for his case belonged to a LA country club that barred Jews from membership. It became known that Dalton, Polanski’s defense attorney, made an agreement with the judge that Polanski’s 42 days in jail was a sufficient sentence, but the judge intended to break their agreement and therefore Polanski chose to flee to France. The article provides a strong point for consideration:

“While Polanski's crime against Samantha was wrong, the 1970s were a different time, where his behavior was a normal occurrence by entertainment-industry standards. The reading gives the example: If every member of British rock bands touring America who seduced an underage girl had been arrested, our music industry would have been decimated.”

French ‘Reality Television

Lowest Common Denominator Television: characterized by exhibitionism, audience voyeurism and incitement to inform

The 1980s and 1990s marked economical and political changes in the French broadcasting system. The break-up of three state-owned channels gave way to multiplication of other channels based on differing economic bases and new company characteristics. This allowed for greater variety in shows, greater competition for audiences and an overall increase in responsiveness to commercial criteria in programming choices. Stemming from these new conditions are the debate over issues of quality and cost or culture and commercialism. Up to this point, French television was a way to adamantly protect its culture.

‘First Generation’ Reality Shows

Pascale Breugnot is the foremost producer of reality shows in France: “our reality programming illustrated its readiness to challenge received ideas of what was culturally legitimate on television”. Reality shows are based on the notion of ‘authenticity’ of the circumstance being presented to its viewers.

French sociologist Alain Ehrenberg divides reality TV into three different categories based on their content and style of presentation.

Telefilm: (authenticity is implicit) actors are used to recreate true stories and the real person is contacted to validate the television version of their story. Ex. C’est mon histoire

Information-debat: (authenticity explicit) relies on the presentation of a conflict, which is to be resolved by the individuals involved and by experts provided in the studio. Ex. Perdu de vue-Families and friends attempt to find their missing loved ones with the services of the station (TF1)

Varietes: (authenticity explicit) draws equally from imported concept of reality shows and French programs. Members of the public participate in the studio through an event reconstructed from their own lives and in a discussion of their experiences.

Temoin No. 1 was France’s longest running reality show that attempts to find answers to unsolved crimes through filmed reconstructions and the public’s contribution of information by telephone to the studio to develop a discussion between police, examining judges, witness and victims. This program was criticized because:

· The “possibility of discrediting traditional mechanisms for the upholding of law and order”

· Fear to give individuals the power to intervene in another’s life without approval

· The choices of unsolved cases were very emotional-first program covered unresolved child murders

· The sensational presentation-extravagant camera work, use of melodramatic music and studio d├ęcor

Reality shows in the mid 1990s and trends in French scheduling:

French broadcasting moves from tele du miel (overly sweet style of the 1980s) to tele du fiel, a newer, sharper form of programs which, respects the intelligence and integrity of viewers. The biggest increase in television was the demand for fiction programs and “magazines et documentaries” programs which, includes reality shows. Resistance to imported ideas of reality television provided the necessary time for the development of ‘French reality programming’. Topics of French RP are love, sex and family relationships and are divided into three main themes:

Everyday dramas of courage- rescues and work of emergency services. Ex. La Nuit des heros

Talking about feelings- most typical of French reality TV, centered around love, sex and family relationships (The success of this category show the French obsession with ‘psychotherapeutic discourse’)

Civic action- promotes the deeper issues concerning French society.

Critiques and Justification

Critiques: The primary debate over reality TV in France is its ability to create a parallel structure of justice, mediation or therapy, which undermines state and professional services. There is also fear of the quality of the programs in terms of its cultural value, which stems from French television’s paranoia about ‘cultural imperialism’. Reality shows provides embarrassing television comprised of lowest-common-denominator programs.

Justification: programs like Temoin No. 1 defended itself from critics by claiming that it fulfilled a public service by aiding officials with the leading method of media, television. New reality shows are viewed by some to be a healthy example of modernization in French TV that is driven by the viewers. The low cost of reality shows in contrast to that of films or fiction programs is one of the main reasons for their increase in numbers. Reality TV provides empowerment of the individual and sometimes even legally and socially.

*Arguments against reality TV are more concerned with political acceptability and ethical value instead of issues of quality.

Although reality TV is becoming increasingly apparent on French television, Herve Bourges of the CSA declared that he will “refuse to believe that this hotchpotch of greed-TV, sleaze-TV and sex-TV is really the future of our television”.

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