Wednesday, September 14, 2005

So You Think You Can Dance - 1x09

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"Hi, I'm Lauren Sanchez..."

Not quite. The real Lauren Sanchez has been swallowed and replaced by a pile of molded silicone and botox.

Blake? More like Blech!

I voted for Jamile. I admit he may be one-dimensional, but it's a dimension that I dig.

Ok, I'm through with the bad jokes and bland opinions. Time to expound on my favorite thing: narrative.

Witty Title: Spectacle and Narrative in Reality Television

Some observational thoughts.

Reality (and here I mean actual reality, not reality tv reality) doesn't adhere to notions of narrative; we get up each morning, go about our business, and go to sleep. There isn't necessarily a story inherent to our lives. Of course, reality tv, in order to maintain the attentions of its audiences, is generally better off fashioning narratives out of the (supposed) shapelessness of unscripted shows (i.e. reality tv) than it would to present its content as something purely to be seen (think of a slam dunk contest, or a Missy Elliott video) -- which is to say, a spectacle.

I used to watch my reality shows according to this distinction between narrative and spectacle. I'd sooner watch something as derivative as The Cut because of its narrative potential than an American Idol spinoff. (A digression: two main reasons I don't watch American Idol (and by extension, why I've stopped watching Rock Star: INXS). First, its structure as a talent show, where each and every contestant needs the airtime to perform, crowds out much of the room to narrativize the content. Second (which is a consequence of the first), I don't like the songs, which makes me doubly impatient with the non-narrative content of the show.)

Of course, I'm completely hooked to SYTYCD now, and I blame much of my addiction precisely on its spectacular nature. As opposed to some rank amateur blowing out his/her lungs during some inane Celine Dion ballad, a rank amateur spinning on his elbow, or gliding along the stage as though he were rollerskating on ice, has enough novelty and pure breathtaking "WOW, how did Jamile do that?" or "That was an awesome lift," or "That's a really great line," or "Holy cack, I am so hot for Artem's sexy-face" to make me forget completely about narrative. So now I was reconsidering my initial attachment to narrative and flirting with the viability of spectacle, and thus feeling kind of slutty.

But then this episode failed to include the behind the scenes practice sessions, an omission that deviated from the previous three episodes. What those peeks into the practices offered were brief narratives that were self-contained; that is, they didn't 'spill out' into the rest of the episode. Someone falls on their butt, the couple laughs, they worry about not nailing the choreography, and so on -- small things that actually build some drama. Will the couple overcome their difficulties in practice and perform well during their routines? While hardly Proust, that's narrative right there, sufficiently well-formed that it enhances the routines.

However, this episode, by not showing the practices, deprived the dances of potential dramatic context. The performances sort of existed in their own vacuums, as they show seemed to spit each couple out: "Here's the first couple. Ok, give them a hand, here's the next couple," and so on. The end result approached pure spectacle. (If you're more attentive than I am, you might be tracking the Nick/Blech showdown/narrative that the judges apparently are fluffing.) Sure, it's entertaining watching Kamilah and Nick swinging each other on a cane, but without that dash of narrative from the practices, the stakes suddenly feel less urgent -- an analogy would be sitting down and watching a game between two teams you aren't familiar with in a sport you don't care about, and trying to find something in it that interests you. If you knew that one team is a heavy favorite because it hoards all the best players by throwing around obscene amounts of money, and the other team is from a (comparatively) small market and features players it developed on its own and, against all odds, is contending for a championship, then you might see the "David and Goliath" narrative that manufactures intrigue.

Behold the moral of this overly autobiographical meditation: "Narrative! It's the spice of life."

Indie rating: Sleater-Kinney - "Wilderness"

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