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tough guy poetry and manly stories of loneliness
all contents copyright Jon Rolston 2004, 2005, 2006

May 22, 2007

blogs are reality tv for the written word

Art revolutions are never within one genre. Zeitgeist creeps across streets, so that the music, the television, the the style of cars all have a feel to them that point to a certain time.

We are in the time of reality television. Reality television is no longer a fad. It is how people, audiences, want their stories given to them. The same spirit that drives reality tv is driving the internet. Blogs are reality tv of the written word. The record industry is falling apart because of Myspace and other online community sites allow kids in garages to reach the masses without having their sound created in the studio of rich producers. It is a more “real”. Reality music. Reality is the new Zeigeist.

When I see Seinfeld reruns, I look at the cliched structure of that show. It is basically a play being filmed and called television. There is the same sense of an audience and a stage as theater provides. Actors play roles. Kramer opens a door and there is no sense that the hallway is real, that anyone else lives in that apartment building. We get that its a stage.

Still, Seinfeld was revolutionary. It helped prepare audiences for reality tv. It was a show about nothing – just everyday life. Once audiences accepted a show about everyday life, it was no longer necessary to have a stage. The audience was ready for reality tv.

I’m in a creative writing masters program. Very few people think about writing novels anymore. Even less people think about reading them. Not new ones. There is too much content to watch online. Too many text messages to send. An art revolution is about whole new forms. That’s why blogs and reality tv are a revolutin in art.

Blogs are the reality tv of the written word. Novels rely on a formulaic stage just like old sit-coms. We enter them knowing what to expect. Blogs don’t follow that formula. They are often about nothing. About everyday life. “Why am I reading about scottish terriers?” I might find myself asking, having clicked through ten links and wound up on a woman’s personal site about her six pets.

It’s because I’m not in the mood to sit down and enter the heavy world of a novel, where over the course of a hundred and fifty pages I’m going to be shown indirectly what makes this person tick. I’d rather have someone throw themselves out there, and I can interpret them. “She’s really crazy about her dogs, and way too rich and unconcerned about humans.”

I want a different course selection in my Master’s Program. Writing is now the infrastructure, the famework, a first step of a visual production. In six years the internet will be 90% more video. That much less written word. But my lesson from Los Angeles is that it takes writing to make reality tv. But a different kind of writing.

I pitched a few shows to tv producers down there and they all told me, “You are writing too much.” My writing program needs to prepare me and the students who follow behind me how to write for the new reality, the new market.

The Creative Writing major is dying, it should be called Creative Storytelling. Story telling predates writing, was pushed aside for words, and now story telling is coming back with these confessional faces spilling their guts into tiny camcorders and posting it on YouTube. I enjoy being a writer, but I’m not holding my breath for my first novel. I want to write The Great American Video.


  1. What seems to be occurring right now is the hunger for the mundane and real. In the flurry of all complicated activity – and technical whatnot, we want the pristine, the nonchalant, the “chill out” type of writing or TV. Perhaps we are all sick of contrived art? We long to be ourselves in the face of so much pretentiousness and needing to “measure up” or to “fit in.” What kind of shows are you pitching? I am a writer myself and have worked in television and I can totally relate with you when they want you to “write” but the right way which is their way of course. I love blogs and reality TV. If you’re looking for a model reality show or just something to increase the breadth of your experience in reality shows, check out Bought and Sold. It’s a show about selling and buying houses, and all the human drama and pain that comes with it. More info at http://www.hgtv.com/hgtv/shows_hbas. I work with them so I know. Where do you study your Master’s? I’m planning to take mine soon.

    Comment by Abby — May 23, 2007 @ 9:53 am

  2. What sucks about blogs is that amazing writing, like your Notes From the Eastern Seaboard, is going to disappear into oblivion in a couple weeks. I want you on paper. I want to read something I can hold, and I want to put you on my bookshelf when I’m done so that every now and then, even years from now, I’ll come across you and rediscover some perfect sentence that I fell in love with.

    Comment by Rachel — May 24, 2007 @ 5:45 am

  3. I appreciate all the work you’ve been doing as my life coach, I’m feeling ready to take on bigger challenges because of it. But I’m not sure about being published. The internet is supposed to replace paper, and I’d hate to work backwards…maybe I’ll put a “best of” link on my site so you don’t have to sift through too much garbage to find the good ones.

    Of course, a book would be fun…thanks Rachel!

    Comment by jon — May 24, 2007 @ 9:42 am

  4. Abby, the show I did a little writing/acting for was a reality based sketch comedy show. The main guy would go out in the public with a stunt/prank and some props and the cameras recorded his interaction with the unsuspecting public. For example, he brought red carpet and velvet ropes and set them up in front of the .99 cent store and interviewed people as they walked out…like it was oscar night. Then security kicked him out.

    In the end it didn’t read as funny on screen. Nobody wanted it. It was a mild mannered jackass in a way. But it really showed me that every genre is moving towards “reality”.

    I’m at SF State, but getting my MFA is basically a hobby. I checked the link, the media clip didn’t load, and I don’t have cable, but I dig the premise. Have fun with it!

    Comment by jon — May 24, 2007 @ 9:48 am

  5. Good stuff, Jon. It looks like this approach is about to be utilized for the 2008 presidential election by Fred Thompson and I think it just might win him the job.

    As far as a best of goes, you don’t strike me as the kind of guy to decide on his own what’s your best blog work. Maybe you need to bring the digg style links back in an internal fashion so people can tag the articles they like but they only contribute to the rankings of articles on your ‘best of’ page.

    One thing that hasn’t changed with the influx of reality tv: most TV shows still suck ass.

    Comment by Lyle_s — May 24, 2007 @ 6:12 pm

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