I have recently been contemplating the Mars One project, a bold, and some might say overly ambitious enterprise to place a Human colony on Mars by the year 2025. In my current adopted country of Canada, 54 Canadian men and women are currently in the running, with the not-for-profit Mars One agency, for a chance to leave Earth permanently and create a permanent settlement on the planet Mars (36 are currently in the running from the United Kingdom). One of the frightening aspects of this mission is the knowing that once out of Earth’s grasp, there will be literally no turning back, no sudden change of heart, no rescue mission. The successful candidates will go through a rigorous physical and mental training regime, that will test the limits of human endurance. As the candidates are whittled down to four champions of space exploration, their fame will become something extraordinary. In the ten year run-up to the first mission Mars One will become the subject of a major reality television programme, we will see the triumphs and challenges played out in real time, we will watch the candidates grow from flawed, eager, and anxious, to almost superhuman and in full acceptance of their own mortality as they are blasted into the ether forever. All the time, we as the audience will be fully aware that their mission to Mars may be fatal, in fact we will be constantly reminded of the fact, and most certainly we will witness their deaths, either naturally years after they have landed or from a tragic accident, at some point during the mission. This to me feels like the inevitable conclusion to reality television’s sombre and cynical projections, although in fact it also offers a welcome change in perspective. Since its upward spiral of popularity in the mid to late 1990s, from shows such as The Real World, and Big Brother, to Britain’s got Talent and The Voice, we have slowly succumbed to expecting more treachery, verbal abuse and belittling, and public humiliation from those involved. Although we have yet to witness a real death in real time, we have witnessed and savoured the rise and fall of thousands of contestants of reality television and vote based talent shows. We have in essence witnessed their demise from fame and fortune and seen them fall back to the life from which they came from, and we have openly mocked their descent. The prospect of Mars One offers us a fresh perspective on cynical reality television culture. The inevitable deaths of the brave candidates will finally give us the martyrs of reality television we so desire. For years after their death, their story will be continually played out in the standard slow motion, and their sacrifice will be forever remembered. A contestant on the receiving end of a bitter putdown by a then greying Simon Cowell will seem completely redundant and meaningless in comparison. In this outlook, reality television will instead have to begin to favour the heroic actions of a few brave men and woman, and dispense with the trivial pursuit of fame. For once we might actually begin to strive for a better future than the promotion of one’s meagre and mediocre talents.
The illustration for this article is by Sky Nash. Click here for more.