Reality TV and Time Capsules
September 7, 2018 • Los Angeles
In The Mythical Blond, Mason gets pulled into consulting on a reality TV series and soon discovers the production of a beloved program is far from real. Early programs in the genre were less scripted than the ones we have today, but even in the early 1970s An American Family, which documented the Loud family in Santa Barbara, the participants couldn’t help but be influenced by the camera pointed at them. Overall they seem more circumspect than people usually are, to that point that one critic labeled the Louds “affluent zombies.” Once in a while their emotions made them forget, as when Pat called her soon-to-be-ex-husband an “asshole” in a restaurant. Some of the most interesting footage wouldn’t make it onto TV today, like the scene where Pat has lunch with her mother, and for eight or ten minutes we watch the women eat sandwiches and stare out the window. I’d love to have ten minutes of footage of my grandmother eating a sandwich.
The most interesting time capsules function in the same way. Around the turn of the millennium dozens of them were opened in well publicized events, usually with disappointing results. People of the mid-twentieth century included things like newspapers and coins and bibles. Did they really think we wouldn’t have those in 50 years? But when someone lost a wallet inside a bathroom wall, the result is a compelling time capsule: a 1940s driver’s license, a draft card, pay stubs, photos of a beloved wife and a beloved Oldsmobile.
In the UK, a wallet lost for 35 years contained 1970s invoices, hand-written receipts, and a paper driver’s license—the stuff archivists dream about, and unlike coins and newspapers and bibles, the kind of stuff that usually gets discarded.
Check out Mason’s adventures in reality TV and his tenuous grip on reality itself in The Mythical Blond, out on September 15.