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Today, reality TV is a genre for which they award Emmys, from which careers are born, love is found, and fortunes are made. Reality TV represents a huge share of the television industry, and we accept that these shows are cast, produced, and edited to enhance their drama. Yet if we see humor in the self-seriousness of the participants and delight in the outrageousness of their antics, if we see the irony in the genre’s ability to produce stars (and even presidential candidates!) and acknowledge it as part of “show business” — then we’d do well to recall that these insights have already been abundantly elucidated in Albert Brooks’ prescient 1979 debut feature film, Real Life.
Brooks realized, long before anyone else, that cameras filming real people’s lives would not only affect and change their subjects, but would also affect those making the film. Brooks understood that, in the end, any production was inevitably show biz, and that show biz is a beast which must be fed and whose gravity, like a black hole, sucks up every imaginable cliché and past convention. In other words, this was a subject ripe for the comic intervention of Brooks, whose style was avant-garde and cerebral and rooted in the deconstruction of the creative process and the exploding of classic comedic tropes. Brooks was meta before meta was cool. Continue reading