Game shows have traditionally prospered on the Everyman quality of their contestants. It could be any of you, or even me, answering quiz questions on television in an attempt to win fortune and fame (it is no longer possible to discern what people crave more). I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! is unique in its absence of the promise of life-changing wealth, perhaps because its contestants already have enough money to spend. In offering fame – what money can’t buy – the contest seems a particularly postmodern event.
An exchange between Anthony Worrall Thompson and Phil Tufnell, perhaps the two more genuine celebrities of I’m a Celebrity, exposed the absence of meaning in the programme. In discussing the rewards of winning this TV competition, about which Tufnell was sceptical, Worrall Thompson described the prospect of selling the story of his stay in Australia to a British tabloid newspaper. Tuffers’ admirably honest response to such a deal, "What the fuck is that?", was surprisingly screened by ITV1, because it is a rare acknowledgement of the show’s ephemeral nature. Worrall Thompson’s response that it meant "A big pay day" was an admission of the motives of most contestants.
The fame that is on offer is not any identifiable achievement, rather it perfectly epitomises the twenty-first century celebrity that is not tied to any discernable sense of merit. It is a secondary fame of sorts, one perpetuated by OK! and other so-called ‘celebrity magazines’, internet sources and entertainment programmes.
Add to this the programme’s questionable reality: the contest exists only for television, so how do we know it is not the ultimate simulation, that it is not all acted in a studio in Cricklewood? How do we know that Ant and Dec have not been replaced by look-alikes playing the cheeky chappies’ Byker Grove alter egos?
In his 1995 essay, ‘The Gulf War Did Not Take Place’, the postmodernist thinker Jean Baudrillard described how it was impossible to distinguish the first Gulf War from a simulation of such an event. With no direct experience of the fighting, we could only experience it at home on our flickering sets, with battlefield action broken down into easily consumable 30-second films of war.
Thus, like the Gulf War, in reality I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! did not take place, but existed only in an electronic space that is generated by our needy antennae that support such media outputs.
The pure simulacrum of I’m a Celebrity was never even a real-life event made into media fodder. In its pure televisual existence, that ‘reported’ on the day’s jungle activities, it is the ultimate reality show, because it contains not even one shred of real life. How do we know the hour-long programmes on ITV1 were not entirely scripted, whilst the rolling coverage on ITV2 was not digitally generated virtual entertainment, designed to minister to our craving for celebrity consumption?
Of course, if we expose productions for which the only purpose is to fill the space of the media, then this newspaper article does not exist.