Real Fiction

Life. It’s literally all we have. But is it any good? I’m a reviewer, but I don’t review food, books, or movies. I review life itself. – Review with Forrest MacNeil

My name is Nathan Fielder, and I graduated from one of Canada’s top business schools with really good grades. Now, I’m using my knowledge to help struggling small business owners make it in this competitive world. This is Nathan For You. – Nathan For You

Lately, Comedy Central has produced a series of shows about fake reality television, an apparent oxymoron in itself. The fictionalization of a sort of television program that attempts to look as “real” as possible. A simulacrum of reality within another fiction that results in a wall of estrangement from the viewers: when we are presented with a second degree fiction we become more self-conscious as an audience since we, ourselves, are represented as the characters that watch that show within a show. This phenomenon, these TV series, originates a game of mirrors that problematize the roles of characters, actors and even audiences.

Both Nathan For You and Review compete in this league: the two series play with the idea of the representation behind a reality show. On the one side, a program where the presenter reviews common issues in everyone’s life (from eating a huge amount of pancakes to divorce) in -ejem- Review and, on the other, a themed show where an expert gives business advice to companies in financial trouble, in Nathan for You. But there is a twist in the latter one, the fiction within fiction where Nathan Fielder is a top Canadian businessman drifts into reality itself, the famous episode of Dumb Starbucks proves one point: the continuous prostitution of reality in the so-called ‘non-fiction TV’ has degraded our views to the point we live in a simulacrum of our own life.

Nowadays, we can basically edit our lives. Our Facebook timelines are just a representation of the appearance we want our lives to have, we choose which information -real or not- we want to broadcast to our friends, which images to publish, which places we visit, and so on. Second Life has ceased to exist because our digital life is now first life. Of course, the only genre willing to acknowledge reality’s problems and experiment with new forms is, and always will be, comedy.

Does anyone remember the criticism The Comeback received during its first run? It was bashed; the audience was not able to appreciate the relevance in the story of that actress haunted by her own fictionalized alter ego. Nevertheless, ten years later The Comeback was probably considered the best comedy of the year and its first season has seen a bump in popularity (even shows such as Episodes and Bojack Horseman seem directly influenced by it). I am not going to stop and explain the greatness within Kudrow’s show but I will give you a small sample: in the fifth episode of its second season, “Valerie is Taken Seriously” a New York Times reporter tells Mrs. Cherish that she is very brave for her performance in her new show, Seeing Red, based on the shooting experience of her previous show Room & Bored and where Valerie plays a fictionalized version of herself, Malerie… and that everybody can see a new angle of her in there. The camera, from the documentary HBO is simultaneously doing about her and that shows “a really interesting angle about you and the obstacles that you’re facing, in particular with this role, your career, your family”, pans then slowly from an actual shot of Lisa Kudrow to her reflection in the car window. A kaleidoscope, a fragmentation of the I lost between the fictionalized reality or the realisticazed fiction, can we even tell the difference anymore?

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…The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true. – Jean Baudrillard

In other words, fiction is now reality, actors star in their own lives while audiences live in their own fictions.

J.

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