Trading Places (1983) – The Satirical Origin of Reality Television?

Trading Places, 1983

Around the winter season of 2010 I was performing hat-and-scarf-tweeting, when Ezra Koenig name-dropped Trading Places: “when ur thinking bout X-Maz movies, don’t forget TRADING PLACES” swiftly followed by a picture of a grubby Dan Aykroyd eating lox out of his dirty-ass Santa beard. Intrigued I was.

Recently television shows like 10 O’ Clock Live and How Television Ruined Your Life, with the sarcastic sentence-cramming full-stop-snubbing Charlie Brooker, have illustrated a slow resurgence of satire in broadcast media. Perhaps following the success of online publications in particular like The Onion, just have a lol at this.

Heck Trading Places is actually a miraculous prophecy for our reality TV obsessed culture we’ve inherited today, presented nicely in the form of a television format for production development teams the world over: Rich man swaps lives with homeless man and the inevitably delightful outcome is observed.

The idea is a prominent one, spawning a vast list of spin-offs which include the likes of Wife Swap and The Secret Millionaire aswell as the recent The Ugly Face of Prejudice amongst others. But Trading Places is an 80s social satire, presenting a gaping reality television format in the process. So in a post-Big Brother realm is satire capable of ensnaring audiences starved of the reality television Goliath? The two couldn’t possibly combine, the problem is Charlie Brooker now fully believes himself to be the undisputed king of satire, and it’s affecting the all important irony.

First off, even the very concept that Eddie Murphy can make a respectable film is utterly inconceivable right now (48 HRS and Shrek maybe) so to pair him with Dan Aykroyd (Antz, The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, Ghostbusters) who is simply a legend, was at first a bit odd. But they bounce off each other so naturally one wonders why they don’t pair up and bounce some credibility back into Eddie.

A 1980s stance on corporate greed, focused around Aykroyd’s character Winthorpe who we graduates would now define as a “Rah“. I was actually born after this film was even made, so I initially figured I wouldn’t really get the 80s based humor. But whaddaya know, like a fashion that comes back around, in the midst of Banker’s ruining our lives and receiving extortionate bonuses it was decidedly relevant, and I totally got it.

A Christmas movie though?

-James Godwin, February 5th, 2011

Copyright © 2011. James Godwin. All rights reserved.