Rigged: Ethics, authenticity and documentary’s new Big Brother
This article explores the ‘fixed rig’ and its impact on ethics and authenticity for those who make and appear in documentary using technology associated with the reality game show Big Brother. Starting with an examination of Channel 4’s original fixed rig observational documentary, The Family (2008), I demonstrate how conventional production processes are transformed. In addition I question claims, often repeated within the television industry and echoing the desires of Direct Cinema, that the use of fixed cameras has created a new breed of ‘unmediated’ documentary in which subjects perform more authentically. Focusing on two series made within public institutions, Educating Essex (2011) and 24 Hours in A&E (2011), I demonstrate how the consequences of remote filming techniques, most significantly the loss of the director-subject relationship, create new questions about the extent to which characters exploit their understanding of ‘the rig’ to construct a media-self. I show how series made in a school and a hospital give those in authority opportunities to self-idealize and as such accentuate a tendency within contemporary documentary to provide unquestioning accounts of the state and its institutions
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