I’m a great fan of documentaries and, as a “people watcher”, I really love series like “Big Brother” and “7 Up”. I guess the reason why I like these two programs and not programmes like “Survivor” is that so many reality programs are based on the idea of putting people in extraordinary situations.
And while the “Big Brother” scenario is pretty extraordinary, at its heart is the dynamics of living in a group house. I mean, just about everyone at some stage has lived in a house with a few others and had to negotiate living arrangements and learn about their behaviour, whereas the idea of being on a deserted island, or being dressed up as people from the nineteenth century, is just too far from reality to honestly be called “reality television”.
“7 Up” is not reality television, per se, though notions of reality television were mentioned for the first time in this, the latest installment, “49 Up”. There were a couple of brief mentions of reality television conventions, notions of identity construction in documentary were discussed, and a couple of those involved mentioned how their lives had been changed and affected because of their involvement. But “7 Up” isn’t “Big Brother”, and I can’t imagine a couple of days of filming every 7 years could really equate with 12 or 13 weeks of non-stop action and viewer voting.
To put this into context, one of those involved made a comment along the lines of… “people watch the show, make some harsh judgements about our lives and then forget about us for another seven yers”. And I guess that’s how I feel about “7 Up”. I find it interesting to watch because I like to watch people, but I don’t find any of the characters so incredibly compelling that I care about them or their lives in between watching the films.
I’ve followed the “7 Up” series regularly since about 28. I seem to remember that as the first one I saw, though I may have seen an earlier edition at some point. By the time you reach 40, the memory starts to get a little dodgy, so please forgive me if I’m not wrong. But if the latest edition of “49 Up” is any guide, I’m about to enter maybe the worst period of my life.
One of the great features of the series is a “recap” or a “reflection back” on the lives of these people. At 7, they’re innocent and fun. By 14, they’re a little more introspective, but looking forward to life. By 21, they’re really painful, all smoking, drinking, obsessed with boys/girls etc. At 28, they’re having families, but still optimistic. By 35, they’re divorced. By 49, they’re generally happy with their lot, have generally found relationship happiness, personal security etc.. But sadly (for me) 42 seems to be the age of the middle aged crisis, where they’ve lost direction, their personal lives are pretty fucked, and they wonder if there’s any point going on.
I turn 42 in November next year. If the “7 Up” series is any guide, I can’t wait for that birthday. Great, eh?