The Unreality of Reality TV: From After Dark towards Twitter, Big Data, and Big Brother
High-velocity media, superficial news and sound bite-driven debates are increasingly shaping our public discourse. The Brexit referendum and the 2016 U.S. election are cases in point. In the age of social media and digital television, what potentials and limits are there for strengthening constructive public debate? What are the roots of the present crisis and what can be done to fight back?
Sebastian Cody (Open Media) and Christian Fuchs (University of Westminster) will discuss transformations of television and digital media and how they impact the possibilities for public debate. Sebastian Cody will focus on the technical and historical context as a practitioner; Christian Fuchs will discuss the acceleration of the public sphere and its impacts on society.
Alternatives to superficial television are possible. The series “After Dark” – described in the television trade press as defining “the first 10 years of Channel 4, just as “Big Brother” did the second" – ran between 1987 and 2003. Based on principles developed for “Club 2”, a debate programme broadcast by the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF, “After Dark” was unique in the history of British television. The programme’s ground rules of absolute live broadcasting (no editing or delay) and open-ended intimate discussion meant that guests' utterances were uncensorable.
Roly Keating, former BBC controller and current Chief Executive of the British Library, described it as "one of the great television talk formats of all time". The subjects discussed ranged widely across national and international news events, while also exploring personal and private matters. As the programme faced challenges from broadcasters, government, the legal system and various vested interests, it was often a source of controversy.
Later iterations of ‘reality TV’ have shaped the current media culture, which is dominated by commercial logic. News and debate are served up as fast-paced entertainment on social media, and big data exacerbates the speed and superficiality of news, undermining possibilities for controversy and fruitful communication.
Sebastian Cody has been responsible for the production of “After Dark” throughout its history. As CEO of the production company Open Media, he has made many dozens of network television programmes, from game shows to investigative documentaries. In 2010 his company launched an online social history of Britain for the academic community alongside the BFI, BBC, The National Archive and others. He acts as a consultant for companies and NGO's and has been attached to the University of Oxford since 2001.
Christian Fuchs is Professor at the University of Westminster, Director of the Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies, and Director of the Communication and Media Research Institute. His research focuses on critical theory of society and critical study of the media, communication(s), and digital media’s role in society. His most recent publications are the monographs “Critical Theory of Communication” (University of Westminster Press, 2016) and “Social Media: A Critical Introduction” (Sage, 2017; 2nd edition, forthcoming).