Desire, Affect and Time: Constructing the Appeal of Reality Television
If fantasy is where your desire is constructed, how better to visualize it than to see it actually playing out on television in front of you? As Jacque Lacan says, it is through fantasy that we learn how to desire, and it becomes precisely the role of reality television to specify the object and coordinates of desire. The viewer engages, and with this participation, reality television breaks the rule of one-way mass communication. Instead of being disengaged from direct viewer participation, it is in fact dependent upon it. This active participation stretches from the viewer watching fantasy to actually participating in the creation of the show. We become immersed in and can see our effects upon reality television. And because reality television is a slice of life of an actual person whose story begins before the show and will continue after it, as opposed to a scripted character, it has time, and time moves. Concurrently, the structure of the show insures that it steps just enough out of time to be fantasy, and not the real. It becomes a place where desires are temporarily found for both the viewer and the participant; when the television is turned off, the fantasy is closed and the desire is once more out of reach. We have formed a love affair with reality television because instead of being a self-contained system that we merely observe, it is something that constructs our desires, has the continuity of time, and we can touch, we can affect.