Anikó Imre is Associate Professor and Chair of Critical Studies in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. She is the author of Identity Games: Globalization and the Transformation of Media Cultures in the New Europe.
Genres of Realism and Reality
This chapter introduces part I, which examines program types that revolve around prioritizing realism as a representational tool to advance the ideological tenets of socialism in an educational fashion, modeled after the European public service broadcasting agenda and developed in a transnational circulation. The chapter argues that these genres of realism not only resemble contemporary reality programs but also constitute an important and neglected prehistory to reality TV. It tracks how realistic-educational programs changed over the decades from straightforward “School TV” toward mobilizing affective involvement, often achieved through introducing docufictional dramatizations, competition, and humor. This trajectory foregrounds television’s central role in socialist states’ mission at citizenship and taste training. The chapter concludes that, at their best, socialist educational “reality programs” were actually more successful than contemporary reality formats because they supplemented, rather than replaced, social work and public welfare and did so in a nonexploitative fashion, not beholden to commercial interests. They remain testimonies not only to the enduring need for the ethos of public broadcasting but also to the enduring potential of socialist ideas.