Life on Camera
I don’t think that there’s a television network that does not broadcast some brand of “Reality TV”. Game shows, romances, human interest dramas, comedies — they all now have Reality Television counterparts that purport to give the viewing audience all the great storylines they’ve come to love… but with real people! In fact, it seems that there isn’t anything in life that doesn’t qualify for its own show; I’m reminded of comedian Patton Oswalt’s joke about the forthcoming apocalypse of television when we’re treated to a new season of “The World’s Most Listless Losers”.
Reality TV has become an entrenched genre, a staple of modern culture. It has spawned “in-the-style-of” type shows, like the brilliant Arrested Development or Steven Soderbergh’s ill-conceived (although some might disagree with me) K Street and Unscripted. SpikeTV went so far as to produce the ultimate send-up of Reality TV with the sometimes uproarious parody, The Joe Schmo Show.
Schmo provides an apt bridge to a discussion of 7 Days to Fame, a three-issue series from indie publisher After Hours Press. What SpikeTV’s series revealed to the general audience was that “Reality TV” is a contradiction in terms (although perhaps media critics had known this all along). What entices us about the shows are the frankly unrealistic situations that the participants are faced with, and their correspondingly unrealistic reactions. Shows like The Surreal Life and that spawn of the Devil American Idol practically slap you in the face with their contrived set-ups, and the participants have contrived, overblown personalities to match.
In 7 Days Scalera and Diaz take the opposite tack: what if people wanted some real life in their Reality TV? The cover of issue #1 announces “A Reality TV Show… About Suicide!” It’s a rather unfortunate marketing decision, a gimmicky hook for a comic that is surprisingly un-gimmicky. Marc and Richelle are, respectively, the host and producer of “Overnight Live”, a struggling late night talk show. Their jobs are on the line when Marc has an idea. After seeing a woman commit suicide in public, Marc brings on Lida Wentworth, an elderly woman with terminal cancer. She stays on the show for a week telling about her life, and at the end of that week, she commits suicide on air, to the surprise of everyone, except, we assume, Marc.
Scalera and Diaz could focus on the darker aspects of their concept, like the morbid thrill of seeing death. Certainly predecessors such as The Running Man have gone that direction. But despite the rather grotesque cover, the comic takes a more humane approach. Issue #1 only takes us up to Lida’s on-air suicide, and presumably future issues will delve into the marketing of a show centered on death. But in this issue, Marc and Richelle’s show starts to succeed even before the gory culmination to Lida’s week of fame, and it succeeds because people seem to actually care about this woman and her life. And although he’s clearly crossed a moral line, Marc isn’t painted unsympathetically. He comes across as a generally smooth, likeable guy who has taken desperate measures to save his job and become a success. Even knowing what’s coming, he’s clearly shocked, and even horrified, at the final outcome of his plan. It may seem bizarre, but one could even claim that this first issue is even a little optimistic about human nature. Maybe people really do value truth, maybe people are interested in the real lives of other people. But behind it all, of course, death hovers, and perhaps that is what draws people to Lida’s story, knowing it is going to end, just not expecting it to be on live TV.
Diaz’s art is solid, though there are occasionally problems in his rendering of the characters’ faces, especially in close-ups or certain angles when the perspective seems off. Overall, though, he captures both the emotions and personalities of the major players. The only other problem with the story is a minor detail that irks me to a disproportionate extent: the story is called 7 Days yet Lida’s only a guest from Monday to Friday. A detail, I know, but bothersome.
Scalera and Diaz have managed a not unimpressive task; they’ve taken the obnoxiously ubiquitous genre of Reality TV and an only somewhat original concept and created an interesting and compelling story. In the process, they’ve also underlined once more the irony of Reality TV; their fictional story has more humanity and honesty than any episode of The Real World ever could.