There are more scholarly ways to put this, but since space is short and I don't want to bore you with Social Theory 101 lessons, I'll put it simply: Reality television represents everything that is wrong with American culture. And not only that, but we're completely addicted—America wants nothing but reality TV.
This is the dilemma facing the two protagonists of American Cannibal, a documentary that premiered last year at the Tribeca Film Festival. Gil Ripley and Dave Roberts are charismatic, aspiring New York-based TV writers whose biggest success is a failed Comedy Central pilot called Psychotic Episodes. Unable to find them narrative work, their agent suggests that they dive into Los Angeles and the world of reality television, to which Ripley and Roberts reluctantly agree. On a lark, they meet with sleaze-master Kevin Blatt—the man who publicized the Paris Hilton sex tape—in the back of a strip club, and once he hears Ripley and Roberts' outlandish ideas for the world's most offensive reality show, he agrees to fund them.
What follows is an exploration of the lowest common denominator in American entertainment, and the depths to which reality television forces the writers to sink. Luckily, it's well crafted (and includes a number of insightful talking head interviews with social critics and TV writers/producers) and entertaining, which tempers the depressing and bleak reality of modern television.
About midway through, though, it becomes apparent that the doc is simply too good—its protagonists too charming and its scenarios too convenient—to be 100 percent real. Lo and behold, the filmmakers have copped to some artifice in the making of American Cannibal, but won't say how much. That realization kills the film's ending, though it helps make the ultimate point: Whenever "reality" is portrayed onscreen, chances are it's total bullshit.