Reality TV is Damaging for Society. If this claim had not been made sufficiently by middle-brow journalists or dull academics before the election of former reality TV star Donald Trump, it certainly has been since. The consensus of almost everyone writing about everything in the West is that our cultural goods either ruin or improve society, and never the other way ‘round. I mean, it’s not like the nature of a society would be reflected in the entertainment it produces, now, is it? Television, video games and those sexy French novels are to blame, or to thank.
Whatever. I’ve given up trying to convince twits that reality precedes its representation on the telly. You want to keep sharing those listicles about how bad or how good reality TV representation is for actual reality, go right ahead. Whether an advocate for “positive” representation or an opponent of vice, you are unlikely to let go your belief in the third-person effect. You believe that “everyday” people are reshaped by what they see on the telly, but somehow, you have yourself been spared. You remarkable, upstanding censor. You Leader of Men!
All of which is to say, don’t expect me to take too much of a dump on The Block. I don’t think the thing matters, other than as a tool for social diagnosis. Sure, it’s a terrible program, but this is a terrible time. And our time is made terrible in Australia largely by lenders, whose credit-fuelled orgy is held atop a trillion dollars of private Australian mortgage debt. It is banks, yes, banks, and not personal greed or market competition that have elevated our private debt to unsustainable levels. We have to have somewhere to live, right? An unregulated banking sector, whose profits are derived largely from our enslavement to debt, now necessary to living, has us all by the short and the curlies.
This season’s winners, Elyse and Josh, were clearly never people, but a delusion that will not hold outside of Instagram.
Well. Nearly all of us. Members of the investment class are the only ones enjoying this credit-fuelled boom. And the interesting thing about The Block—again, good only for social diagnosis, completely useless when it comes to regulating the banking sector—is that it has now quit asserting that we all can simply flip a property and win. No more Dare to Dream, here.
I mean. Look at it. This season’s winners, Elyse and Josh, were clearly never people, but a delusion that will not hold outside of Instagram. Elyse is an “international model” who is a “tomboy from way back”, and, Josh, it seems, is a manbun to which some hipster fancy of artisan carpenter is attached. No one knows people like this, because people like this do not exist. And outfits like the one international Elyse wore to auction have never been sewn. No designer in their right mind would think, “I will enhance the feminine form by encasing it in a meringue doily and a white polyester chastity belt”.
And no producer or publicist who sought to make a program realistic would think to make so much of a celebrity bidder. Dave Hughes, a creditable everyman comic who built a good fortune on the foundation of his early “dole-bludger” material, purchased the Instagram home for $3.067 million. Hughes has said he purchased the home as an investment, which is probably not the most insightful move a guy could make in a market routinely described as a bubble. But this guy, who took his place at auction next to another guy who was once on The Bachelor, does not endure the reality most viewers of The Block must. Hughes might have clean forgotten the 2007-08 real-estate led global financial crisis. We haven’t, because we are still living with its effects, and the refusal of our leaders to truly regulate the banks that caused it.
Dave “Hughesy” Hughes seems like a decent bloke, and I do not wish him financial loss. Nor do I begrudge him his wealth, which at least was gained by making cracks about toddlers and married life rather than through the peonage of the many. Hughes is not a bank. But he does appear to us as an unusually lucky fellow, which is probably how he, seemingly a modest sort, still appears to himself. He might still speak like one of us, but we know, as he does, that he is not.
We know that everything on this reality program lacks reality. There was a time we still believed that home ownership was possible and a show like The Block might actually pose as instructive, not fantastic. But this was before even a pro-business, pro-bank outlet like News Corp was forced to concede that renting is fast becoming the new residential normal, and that we watch The Block not even with the aspiration of home ownership, but with full consciousness that this is how those in the higher income distribution—investors, celebrities and international models—live.
There are no more “battlers” who can make it good. Only investors, and people who accidentally fall into piles of money the bank didn’t eat.
I wonder what will become of Scotty Cam, the host of The Block, after this season of diminished profits and celebrity purchase. This fictional fix-it man was never more real than Josh and Elyse, but his idealised non-existence points to the ideals of another time. Our bootstrapping Banjo Patterson, a Bunnings catalogue come to partial life, is the sort of “reality” even those of us who watch reality TV for the fantasy it provides cannot brook. There are no more “battlers” who can make it good. Only investors, and people who accidentally fall into piles of money the bank didn’t eat.
The ocean of uninterrupted tastefulness. The moods of contestants. Even the fact that this shit show purchased St Kilda’s last low-income residential house and will remake it into some Elyse-and-Joshy post-material dream of chic beachside living. None of these things matter, so much. (Although, I do feel for the people of The Gatwick, consigned to the margins all their lives, now thrown out of my old postcode for having the cheek to be born without investments.)
Reality TV doesn’t matter. What does is that our banks are permitted to lend unchecked. They will continue to make—actually make—money. They will continue to effectively set the housing price. They will not stop until even David “Hughesy” Hughes is ruined. A little reality real estate porn is not a great crime, when we consider the ongoing and very real act of theft by our banks.
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