PA­TRICK FREYNE

A pow­er­ful TV se­ries draws us into the lives of oth­ers. But are we all a lit­tle too con­nected?

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

A young woman fights with her boyfriend about a text mes­sage. Another cries while think­ing about her dead fa­ther. A woman who works as a sex worker gets a bag of scones from a client.

Con­nected, the new, raved-about re­al­ity se­ries from RTÉ, fol­lows the self-doc­u­mented lives of six brave, like­able, dif­fer­ent women. It’s com­pelling, ad­dic­tive, some­times poetic tele­vi­sion. There is some ar­ti­fice here – it’s a deftly remixed and soun­tracked re­al­ity. But after years of blunter ma­nip­u­la­tions, watch­ing peo­ple in nat­u­ral light­ing speak­ing di­rectly to cam­era feels weirdly in­ti­mate.

This might look like a new evo­lu­tion for re­al­ity TV, but it’s ac­tu­ally a re­turn to an ear­lier it­er­a­tion . The video di­ary was a sweet-na­tured for­mat born in the 1990s that fea­tured or­di­nary peo­ple talk­ing di­rectly to th­ese new-fan­gled video cam­eras. This was sub­se­quently over­taken by brasher styles – scripted re­al­ity shows fea­tur­ing the de­monised poor or re­viled rich, med­i­cal freak shows and rit­u­alised tal­ent con­tests where the so­cio­pathic, dim-wit­ted and de­luded danced for pen­nies.

More re­cently, how­ever, the fickle pub­lic are grow­ing tired of “re­al­ity’s” grubby ma­nip­u­la­tions. They crave re­al­ity again. Re­al­ity pro­grammes are now com­pet­ing to be the most “real”.

The Voice pitches it­self as purer

than The X Fac­tor. The Great Bri­tish Bake Off is, in its gar­den fête love­li­ness, more au­then­tic than Bri­tain’s Next Top Model.

And Con­nected has an aura of truth ab­sent from South­side House­wives.

Con­nected also re­flects and takes in­spi­ra­tion from a much big­ger so­cial ex­per­i­ment. Since the first video di­aries, mil­lions have started doc­u­ment­ing their lives on YouTube, Face­book and Twit­ter.

We know ridicu­lous amounts of in­for­ma­tion, not just about TV stars, but about one another. If I follow you on Face­book, I know about the an­tics of your chil­dren, the way the light falls on the trees out­side your house, and what you ran­domly re­mem­bered about Rick Astley last Tues­day night. All th­ese or­di­nary bits of ex­pe­ri­ence were once the in­gre­di­ents of “a pri­vate life”.

Yes, be­ing pri­vate isn’t just about not tweet­ing your pin num­ber and the lo­ca­tion of your hid­den house key. It’s also about the bor­ing de­tails – the things that are pre­cious to you, dull to strangers and worth money to big data com­pa­nies.

One con­se­quence of be­ing swamped by other peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences is that we crave purer doses of re­al­ity and start as­so­ci­at­ing emo­tional raw­ness with authenticity. Whereas once deep feel­ings were a rar­ity on tele­vi­sion, in re­cent decades that’s changed.

More re­cently we’ve for­malised emo­tion into a du­bi­ous equa­tion: pub­lic rev­e­la­tion fol­lowed by tears = cathar­sis. This ex­pec­ta­tion even un­der­pins a show as good as Con­nected.

The par­tic­i­pants all tell the cam­era things they might strug­gle to tell those clos­est to them. Alanna Dig­gin speaks heart­break­ingly about her fa­ther’s sui­cide but re­sists coun­selling. Kate McGrew, who last week in­formed her mother she’s a sex worker, wor­ries about be­ing spun as “the girl who’s get­ting f***ed”.

I don’t think any of them are f***ed. I think they’re brave and are, at best, ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple, elim­i­nat­ing shame and fos­ter­ing em­pa­thy. It ap­peals be­cause our pasts are filled with re­pres­sion

One con­se­quence of be­ing swamped by other peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences is that we crave purer doses of re­al­ity and start as­so­ci­at­ing emo­tional raw­ness with authenticity

and guilt. But there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing open and proud and liv­ing with an au­di­ence. Con­nected is bril­liant TV, but it’s also rooted in emo­tional voyeurism and the sug­ges­tion that go­ing pub­lic is like go­ing clear.

Maybe when there are no pri­vate thoughts or en­ter­prises, we’ll live in a hap­pier world. But I think that our hap­pi­ness de­pends on keep­ing some things for our­selves be­cause our pre­cious life ex­pe­ri­ences, mun­dane or dra­matic, are not go­ing to be treated so care­fully by the strangers they en­ter­tain.

To quote the ex­cel­lent Elayne Har­ring­ton in yes­ter­day’s episode: “Be care­ful of my heart, you moth­erf***er.”

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