Do UK Reality TV Documentaries have any Anthropological Credentials? Introduction
Nanook of the North (1922) by Robert J Flaherty portrays the life of an Inuit family living in the Canadian Arctic and is widely regarded as the first of the then new genre, documentary cinema. At the time the piece was praised for its innovative yet entertaining value and set a new president for non fiction cinema. As one journalist then expressed ‘Here was drama, rendered far more vital than any trumpedup drama could ever be by the fact that it was all real’( Sherwood 1923: p 2). Since then there has been a perspective shift towards the practice of documentary making, with an endeavour for authenticity. Flahertys work has come under criticism for staging certain events for the purpose of entertainment and subsequently deceiving audiences.
Having watched Nanook of the North and read the subsequent commentary, it prompted me to think about the current trend for ‘reality’ based television programs in the UK1 . A prime example of such broadcast is the series One Born Every Minute (2011)2, which claims to show the day to day activity of a maternity ward in Southampton. Unlike the large prohibiting equipment used in Flahertys era, footage is taken from forty small fixed digital cameras strategically placed around the hospital. Each episode documents two couple’s time spent on the ward ending with the birth of their child. The programme has been praised by British press for its no thrills approach to mainstream documentary making.
‘One Born has seen Channel 4 strip things right back to basics. Just a camera, watching people doing something they'd be doing anyway, with no glances towards the lens or talk of how subjects are portrayed "by the editing".’ (Raeside :2011)
This will be referred to as reality tv from now on One Born Every Minute will be referred to as OBEM from now on
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