At this point, I feel sorry for Lara Bingle. Not in a pitying sense – well, perhaps insofar as the fact that a reality show is a means of career progression for her – but in the sense that she has, essentially, become a pariah simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The issue at hand seems to be that Bingle is unworthy of the attention or adulation that having her own TV show might indicate. Part of the problem is that cultural discourse surrounding reality television is so negative. The way you hear people speak about, for example, the infamous trio of Kardashian women is particularly representative of this.
Now, if you’ve ever sat down and watched an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, you’ll know that it is a show that deserves to much of the maligning it receives – it’s vacuous, unrepresentative of reality, and reeks of a falsity that many would point to as evidence of a sharp decline in the quality of modern film and television. But that kind of vapidity doesn’t really warrant calling them “whores” or “sluts” or any number of other, often misogynistic, slurs. There are much better ways to criticise a show like that.
But there is a lot of misunderstanding about a genre of television that many people love to judge but do not actually watch. Reality television as we know it is largely symptomatic of the surge of information sharing afforded to us by the internet. In a world where you can be in constant contact with people basically anywhere on the planet, there is assuredly a market for television shows that provide an insight into any number of different cultures, societies and lifestyles.
Another reason for reality TV’s continued existence? It’s cheap. Unless you’re basically writing the whole damn show like they did with The Hills, you don’t need writers, or known actors, sets or many of the other costly aspects of producing a drama or a sitcom. And even then, writers for reality TV are often paid far, far less than their scripted programming counterparts.
But in Australia, Being Lara Bingle represents the first step toward a more Kardashian-ian approach to reality TV. We already have a storied history in reality – it just masquerades as ‘factual’ programming such as Bondi Vet or RBT or similar. Border Security has been a solid hit on our screens for many years, and never has there been as much uproar about its unique method of slyly shaming non-white people when they fail to follow customs laws as there has been about a 24 year old model being followed around by a band of almost definitely bored cameramen.
This idea that only Lara Bingle is getting something (a TV show) for nothing (for being pretty, I guess?) is extremely problematic. Reality TV is all about something for nothing. There’s nothing inherently television-worthy about the ‘Dr’ aspect of Dr Chris Brown of Bondi Vet. It could literally have been any veterinarian, but because he looks and charms like a Disney prince, he gets to have a TV show as well. This is how show business functions.
The point I’m trying to make is that it could have been anyone who got a show not dissimilar to Being Lara Bingle. In fact, something worse already exists – there’s a show on the Foxtel channel Arena called WAG Nation, about the tacky, leopard-print-laden lives of footballers’ wives.
What intrigues me most about all of this is the question of whether a male sporting star getting a reality TV show would provoke the same reaction? I sincerely doubt it. And yet there would be a lot of overlap. Both Lara Bingle and mythical popular sporting personality would have been long-rewarded for a career which is self-serving and directly and tangibly beneficial to no one but themselves.
It’s unpopular to say it in this country because sport is so revered, but playing rugby league for a living is basically modelling for a living but for blokes, which is even truer when you consider that straight women and gay men who watch are both enjoying the game and also the fact that it’s a DNA magazine cover come to life.
Again, I have no desire to see the continued existence of Being Lara Bingle, but there’s no sense in criticising Lara Bingle for it, especially without having seen the show. Criticise Channel Ten and the network executives from all networks who would rather spend money producing a reality show about a model or The Footy Show or a Masterchef contestant’s cooking for half an hour (or any such EXTREMELY niche programming) than providing much-desired jobs for directors, writers, producers and crew of scripted drama and comedy in this country.
All of this ignores the fact that there is some very good reality television being made. SBS’ award-winning series Go Back To Where You Came From is a particularly prescient example of this in Australia; elsewhere, RuPaul’s Drag Race manages to be one of the most wonderfully nuts, entertaining reality shows ever made while it also subtly satirises the very genre space it occupies.
There’s very little an individual can do about this. As long as there is a sufficient audience to make these kinds of shows profitable, they will continue to be made. The best thing an individual viewer can do to change the kind of local programming we get is to watch the hell out of the excellent local content we do get. Paper Giants was rightfully a hit; however, the brilliant ABC production Mabo drew only 544,000 viewers in its first airing. Ten cancelled Rush for low ratings, shows like Laid continued to decline in ratings as well. These are all quality Australian pieces of scripted television, but instead we all prefer to watch a bunch of bogans renovate a house or something and Rebecca Gibney cry every three seconds. Perhaps we get the television we deserve.