Tamarama, featuring The City‘s Jay Lyon, takes the stage at STAND Canada’s Darfur benefit concert.
When Tamarama rolled into town for STAND Canada’s latest Darfur benefit concert, they encountered a mob of fawning teenagers and twenty-somethings. Indeed, the transplanted Australian-American reggae-rockers found a half-capacity, albeit captive, audience at Toronto’s Berkeley Church last week. And the reason for all the wide-eyes and short-shorts in the room? Reality television.
If the name Tamarama isn’t ringing any bells, perhaps the name Jay Lyon—one of the band’s frontmen—will. Jay appeared on The City, MTV’s New York City–based spinoff of hit reality show The Hills, as main character Whitney Port’s then-boyfriend. In typical reality-television fashion, Jay was presented as a caricature of himself; his “dude moves” (waffling between wanting—and not wanting—to be in a relationship with Whitney; not telling Whitney his band was about to start touring; ogling ex-girlfriends; etc.) were offset by his “struggling-artist charms” (looking unkempt; being generally nice-ish; appearing not to give a shit about New York City’s socialite scene; etc.). And hours and hours of his life—and, more so, Whitney’s life—and the time the two spent together, were captured on film, edited into episodes, and broadcast to a reality-hungry nation. In other words, Jay is famous for being a regular, everyday guy, whose regular, everyday interactions just happened to have been captured on camera.
And when three girls from Northern Secondary had the opportunity to book an international act for the benefit concert they were organizing (did we mention that three girls from Northern Secondary organized a benefit concert?), the choice was clear: they wanted Jay’s band to headline the show. So they punched in Tamarama’s MySpace coordinates, contacted the band directly, and threw a few (hundred) dollar bills at Tamarama’s manager (did we mention we think these ladies are really fucking smart?). Of all the international acts in the world, of all the celebrity- and pseudo-celebrity-fronted bands on the continent, these Grade Eleven students wanted to nab Tamarama. The ladies were upfront about their decision to book Tamarama; a few hours before the concert began, the three of them (that is: Sara Byres, Daisy Kling, and Hannah Clifford) admitted they just “really, really loved The City.”
Tamarama’s frontmen (top) meet Northern Secondary’s concert organizers (bottom).
And who can blame them? Once again, MTV delivered the kind of “reality” that we’ve grown to love to hate; beautiful, vapid people were filmed doing beautiful, vapid things. But the editing was slick—and, somehow, MTVs producers managed to find storylines and narrative arcs in the minutiae of Whitney’s, Jay’s, and Whitney and Jay’s friends’ everyday lives. And we’ll be the first ones to admit: we’ve watched every single episode of The City (online, naturally). But why?
In the early 1970s, PBS produced America’s first “real” reality show: the aptly named An American Family. Chronicling the daily interactions of an average American family, PBS gave American viewers their first taste of episodic, re-packaged reality. Although the show captured the attention of cultural critics (Margaret Mead, in particular), it didn’t spawn any spinoffs—until the 1990s, that is. Of course, in the 1980s, networks experimented with variations of the reality format (think Cops or America’s Funniest Home Videos), but it took a team of documentary filmmakers from MTV to really make something of PBS’s pioneering premise. And the name of this “something” was The Real World. Fast-forward a decade or two, and here we are: inundated with reality programming. From gimmicky, game-style shows (e.g. Survivor or The Bachelor) to documentary-esque programs that claim to chronicle “life as such” as it unfolds for a select group of subjects. But for Jay and Whitney, what was documented wasn’t “life as such”—it was life as it unfolded in front of the camera. Although Jay and Whitney aren’t professional actors, they’re still, arguably, performers of sorts; it’s not as though they don’t know they’re being filmed. And they—along with a host of reality pseudo-celebrities—have become today’s real teen idols.
STANDing room only at the Berkeley Church.
While we may be gazing at flatscreens to view “reality” in high-definition (instead of, you know, experiencing it for ourselves), we’re still looking for the glitz, glamour, and drama of regular (read: fictitious) prime-time programming. Jay and Whitney may not have attended acting school, but they sure do know how to string an audience along. And they sure do know how to look good while going about their daily lives. But as media scholar (and reality-television buff) Mark Andrejevic notes, reality television participants are still labourers: simply put, they’re engaged in the “work of being watched.”
As Tamarama took the stage last Wednesday night, the screams and catcalls from the crowd suggested that the three concert organizers from Northern weren’t the only ones infatuated with Reality Jay and his bandmates. No longer flanked by cameramen, and no longer dogged with the task of performing the “real,” Jay was actually able to, well, just be himself—even if that meant ignoring the “Where’s Whitney?” question that one teenaged fan kept wailing out between songs.
Photos by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.