Popular culture, as defined by Storey, is “…simply culture that is widely favoured or well liked by many people.” However, when asked to explain what popular culture I consume, I can’t necessarily say that I do, well… as much as others at least. People usually freak out when I tell them I’m not so crazy about the Marvel franchise, or that I haven’t sat and watched even a minute of a Star Wars or Harry Potter film. Despite a majority of my entertainment coming from Youtube or TikTok, it becomes clear to me that I have a preference for online content over popular mainstream media, whether that be the latest blockbuster film, or something like Big Brother.
Without the intention to come across as those pretentious, ‘I only watch indie movies’, type of guys, it has recently occurred to me that popular mainstream films and reality television shows fail to satisfy my interests. The aesthetics and approaches to cinematography that independent filmmakers and Art House movies have seem to perfectly hit the mark in keeping me firm in my seat. However, that is not to say I am completely disconnected from popular culture. I happened to be with the family one night when the first episode of Masterchef Australia started. Not bothered to get up and walk away I found myself watching a reality TV show, indeed a rarity in my life. To cut this story short, I became addicted.
After the episode finished, my urge to find out what happened next grew strong, I asked myself, why is stuff like this so damn popular? Well, as Darling-Wolf suggests reality television moves away from “finished” media content to “culturally neutral formats”. Basically, content that is extremely accessible and digestible by almost all demographics of viewers. However, it is also important to note the concept of ‘cultural proximity’ As Czaszek and Webster suggest “cultural proximity is the intuitively appealing notion that people will gravitate toward media from their own culture[s]…” To enhance the clarity of this concept, cultural proximity is “…the tendency to prefer media products from one’s own culture or the most similar possible culture’’ (Straubhaar, 2003, p. 85).
When discussing cultural proximity in the context of reality television, a great example of this in action is indeed the Glocalication of Masterchef. Debuting on 2nd of July 1990 in the United Kingdom, the show’s cultural significance increased overseas with the first Australian edition of the show came to air on the 27th of April 2009. As a result, due to the ‘geo-linguistic’ and ‘cultural linguistic’ relevance of ‘Masterchef Australia’, (Cunningham, Jacka, & Sinclair, 1998; Straubhaar, 2003) increasing due to its introduction to the nation, Australian audiences are now able to resonate with the dialect, characters and narratives expressed significantly more in comparison to the original version, set in a different country with a vastly different culture.
As Straubhaar explains, in order for content to to effectively reach an audience, and maintain their interests, the “… ability to speak or at least understand the language of a broadcast, is an important ingredient in audiences’ selection of a program and their enjoyment of it.” It’s as simple as that.
Although I may not be the most avid viewer of reality television, or any mainstream popular culture for that matter, it’s ignorant to say that I am disconnected from it entirely. From my experience, reality television is extremely digestible content, so digestible you are able to become hooked from a single episode even if half from the run time is the same advertisement on a loop.
It becomes clear that reality television is designed to be watched and enjoyed over a sustained period of time, and no matter what demographic you fit in, as long as you have the time and are able to fully understand what’s going on, you will see the show to its very end.
That’s if you don’t get up before it even starts.