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Story Telling and America’s Reality TV Addiction

Analytical Introduction

Atwan’s work was not only informative but it was also inspiring for those who love to listen to stories, love reading great classics, and dream of someday becoming skilled enough to write a decent yarn that could be enjoyed by both young and old. Even a non-writer can appreciate Atwan’s article on telling stories for it provides a breakdown of what makes a good story as opposed to one that can easily be forgotten or worse easily ignored. Atwan’s work is helpful in providing tips for a new writer, aspiring speaker or even for a parent trying to improve his or her storytelling skills in order to provide good bedtime stories for their kids. It is helpful in understanding the significance of stories in the lives of men. But in this particular study, Atwan’s article on storytelling was very helpful in understanding a relatively new TV craze sweeping the world – reality TV shows.

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In the following pages the author of this study will use the principles found in Atman’s work to analyze why reality TV shows is such a popular commodity in the United States as well as in many parts of the world. In fact, reality TV shows did not originate from the U.S. and that some of the most popular brands was exported from abroad. For instance, the hit TV show Survivor, “…the grand-daddy of reality television, came to these shores from England in 2000” (Atwan, 168). The other hit shows such as Big Brother and Fear Factor came from Holland and Germany respectively (Atwan, 168). But when it was adapted to suit the U.S. market, the viewing experience of Americans was never the same again.

Part of the answer can be understood from the point of view of a storyteller. The recent TV craze can be understood by applying the principles found in Atwan’s article. First of all this requires the realization that reality TV shows are not merely a random sequencing of information and events but instead a deliberate method of telling a story that makes it almost impossible for the viewer to turn and away and ignore the message. This means that understanding the phenomenon requires a careful analysis of what comprises a good story. Thus, the knowledge regarding the use of plot is essential for breaking down the elements of reality TV.

The next step requires another level of analysis and this time the proponent of this study is well aware that the producers of these types of shows are also familiar with concepts such as: exposition, complication, climax and resolution. The producers were able to creatively modify the usage of these components to bring the audience to the edge of their seats. This strengthens the claim made in the preceding discussion that without the knowledge gleaned from Atwan’s work it would have been impossible to realize that reality TV shows are based on a solid storyline which in turn makes for a very engaging TV viewing experience.

The proponent of this study elected to use the above-mentioned process because the mere study of Atwan’s article may be interesting for aspiring writers and storytellers but for the rest of the population there is very little incentive to go deeper than understanding the basics of storytelling. So in order to make it a more interesting paper, it was decided that the principles found in Atwan’s article will be used to dissect reality TV shows. This is hitting two birds with one stone. Firstly, the reader will get to know the components that comprise a good story. Secondly it will also allow the reader to realize that reality TV shows are not simply a collection of footages taken from candid shots while the participants performed their tasks oblivious to the fact that cameras were constantly churning and recording their every move. In truth reality TV shows are stories created in the same way that movies are made – with the use of a script, good directing, and sometimes good acting.

Story Telling and America’s Addiction to Reality TV

Storytelling is as ancient as the cave paintings found in ancient lands. It is as ancient as the oral histories passed on from generation to generation. It is a method of communication that can be learned easily and can be used by both young and old. A child can tell stories as well as a 90 year old man. Stories can be both entertaining as well as informative. There are dull storytellers as well as exciting raconteurs who can fire up the imagination and bring the listeners to the land of magic and fairy tales. There is no secret formula for creating a very interesting story although Atwan asserts that an experienced storyteller or writer can easily distinguish the structure of an excellently woven tale.

One of the most interesting aspects of storytelling revealed in Atwan’s work is the combination of two concepts: a) sequence and b) consequence. These two put together can form the basic structure of a story. But in order to make a story worth listening to, another component must be added to the mix and this is none other than the concept called plot. This is the part of Atwan’s work that really benefited the reader as it pinpointed the most essential ingredient needed for a good story. Mastery of these concepts will allow the narrator and the writer to produce exceptional quality work that will then hold the attention of both listeners and readers alike, encouraging them to come closer and find out how the story ends.

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Going back to the idea of “sequence” it is a basic characteristic of a story. It is the sequencing of facts or one that, “…consists of a string of events connected chronologically” (Atwan, 132). Thus, a child can easily create a story and at the same time narrate a simple tale to his or her parents, teachers, and friends. Kids can simply retell the events of the day or to recount what has transpired in the classroom. But if the young storyteller adds nothing except the chronological arrangement of information then the only sympathetic listener would be the child’s relatives and no one outside the circle of family will give the child the chance to finish the story. Everyone will be bored and suddenly remember that there are more important things to do.

A more engaging storyteller will do more than arrange the order of events and edit the story so that it will only show the most important details. A good story teller will provide enough information to whet the appetite and then make it interesting enough to hold the attention of listeners until the very end. But the master storyteller can go even further and can achieve immortality by shaping the events and the facts to produce a good plot. According to Atwan, the plot deals with the causes and consequences of the events and it usually follows an arc where one can find the following components:

  • exposition;
  • complication;
  • climax;
  • resolution.

Atwan’s work allows the reader to appreciate a good story and at the same time reminds everyone the kind of hard work that is brought into the process of creating a wonderful narration of a story as well as the process of writing of classic stories of old. This also informs the reader that great sacrifices had been made to produce modern day classics. At the same time this will encourage the reader to attempt creating a story that can be potentially enjoyed by millions of people all over the world eagerly awaiting the release of a modern day masterpiece. These are the type of stories that continue to inform, entertain and inspire.

The art of storytelling is a fascinating topic but it is hard to convince those who are not thinking about pursuing a career in writing and journalism to spend more time in a deeper study regarding the intricacies of storytelling. Thus, in order to make the discussion more interesting and appeal to a wider audience, the principles found in Atwan’s article must be used to analyze a TV phenomenon that is sweeping the globe and this is none other than reality television.

Keeping in mind the elements of a good storyline, and using these as tools to scrutinize reality TV, will not only provide a very interesting and challenging exercise but it will also allow the proponent of this paper to fully grasp the reason behind the smashing success of reality TV shows such as Survivor, Big Brother, Fear Factor and Extreme Makeover. It is also an interesting exercise because it will also allow the proponent to see storytelling in a new light. This means that reality TV shows are not random messages broadcasted from the TV set but in truth an ingenious use of the ancient techniques of storytelling combined with new technologies of the 21st century.

It is interesting to know that reality TV shows are not a byproduct of a haphazard collection of footages but it is a systematic arrangement of audio and visual information to create a story. The producers of Big Brother for instance would like the audience to believe that they are merely showing what is happening inside the Big Brother house in real time, but nothing is farther from the truth than the suggestion that the finished product is some sort of a documentary of real events. According to Siegel, “Today’s reality television is heavily edited, musically scored, and constructed with overlapping time-frames that present a participant making voice-over analysis as he and the viewers watch him in a situation taped much earlier” (Atwan, 170). It is therefore accurate to say that the term “reality” is not an accurate description of these types of shows but this is beside the point.

The more important issue here is the realization that reality TV is a modern way of telling a story. It is very effective not only because it uses the already proven techniques found in TV and film production. But more importantly reality TV employs the use of a technique described by Atwan – the playing of the plot. Producers of these types of show are proficient in shaping the plot to control emotional responses of the audience (Atwan, 134). In the case of reality TV, the plot is shaped in such a way that the show takes a long time to complete the exposition portion of the story. In some shows like Big Brother the format of the show requires a significant amount of time to introduce the participants, their background and the reason why they were chosen as one of the participants.

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In contrast, the complication phase takes up less time. The audience immediately understands the reason behind the conflict and since reality TV is likened to a game show then the conflict is linked to the fact that there must only be one man or woman left standing at the end of the season or at the end of the show. Thus, the complication phase proceeds in a blur as the audience quickly recognize what is required for the participants to win.

On the other hand, the climax phase is the most laborious part of the story. The climax phase takes a torturous route. This is a common characteristic of reality TV shows; there is no quick resolution to the complication aspect of the story. In Fear Factor the major portion of the show is the climax part of the story where each participant tries to resolve the conflict. And everyone is aware as to how the conflict can be resolved and this is achieved when everybody drops out and there is only one man or one woman standing.

For a long time many have questioned the popularity of reality TV shows. There are those who content that these are mindless distractions and help entertain the masses of people sick and tired of hearing the sad news regarding the economy, the crime rate and rumors of war. Yet a closer examination of reality TV shows revealed that the attraction is not solely based on the impressive and entertaining audio and visual messages broadcasted into the TV set. The more important reason behind the success of reality TV shows is rooted in the fact that these shows are well conceived and well produced stories. If the exposition and complication phases are well written and communicated well then by the climax phase the audience are already hooked and they could no longer turn away until the conflict emanating between the participants will be resolved in front of millions of viewers across America and across the globe.

Works Cited

Atwan, Robert. Convergences: Message, Method, and Medium. 2nd Ed.

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