Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reality Shows

I just finished the newly published American edition of a book by the great French feminist writer Annie Ernaux. It was published in France in 2000 as La vie extérieure and came out in 2010 from University of Nebraska Press as Things Seen, translated by Jonathan Kaplansky. The text takes the form of a diary of daily events observed in and around Paris in the years between 1993 and 1999. Most entries are observations of small scenes on the train or in the street. The one quoted below concerns a TV show.

May 28

While channel-hopping as usual before turning off the TV, I saw the smooth and beautiful face of a very young girl appear on the screen. She was saying, "my father raped me when I was twelve." It was impossible to leave this face. She calmly continued her story the mother would fall asleep with sleeping pills every day, the father would sneak into the child's bedroom helped along by the discreet questions of the host, a middle-aged, gray-haired man, looking like a good father, playing the role of confidant. 

Then the mother arrived, with her tortured face, on the verge of tears, then the grandmother, a strong woman defending her son the rapist, currently in prison and who "is crying like a baby."

In the following act the village appears; its inhabitants present on the set, accuse the girl of having played a role, of even provoking her father. The girl, head held high, resembles an ancient heroine facing a furious chorus.

Third act. Psychiatrists and a lawyer enter the scene, explain and resolve the conflict. 1) the father raped his daughter because he himself was raped as a child by a family member; 2) the little girl, in his power, had no choice but to accept the rape; 3) the village made the error of viewing the child as a responsible woman because she slept with a man.

The mother cries, the grandmother as well. The show is over. But the passions are not purged. The actors whose lives have just been enacted go back with their beliefs and hatreds, fired up by the exhibition.

A strange feeling that this "reality," because of its staging, was not true. In other words, that they never got to the truth of the people, or the story. What was certain, striking, was the fascination that incest held for all participants, and the desire to put their victim, the beautiful little girl, to death.

Later I thought that there will be more and more reality shows, fiction will disappear, then we will no longer tolerate this dramatized reality, and fiction will return.