About Reality Bites Back
What does it mean to be female in America? According to reality television, women in general are golddiggers, bimbos, and bitches, and women of color are violent, “low class” whores. Straight, single gals are pathetic losers and, we’re led to believe, it’s hilarious when they get mocked, dumped, or punched in the face. And even during the worst financial crisis since the Depression, it’s “important” to blow a year’s salary on bridal gowns, couture clothes, and luxury vacations. Throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century, our most popular form of media has erased all signs that the women’s rights, civil rights movement, and gay and lesbian rights movements ever occurred.
The resulting picture of America displayed through the lens of The Bachelor, Flavor of Love, and The Real Housewives of…everywhere… is profoundly warped. Nearly every night on every major network, “unscripted” (but carefully crafted) dating, makeover, lifestyle, and competition shows glorify regressive stereotypes most of us assume died forty years ago. The masterminds of reality television have accomplished what the most ardent fundamentalists have never been able to achieve: they’ve created a world in which women not only have no real choices…they don’t even want any.
Who is creating this pop cultural backlash against women’s rights and social progress, who profits from it, and why? What are the implications of a generation of viewers gulping down this influential genre’s gendered myths as uncritically as those ubiquitous Cokes on American Idol—and what can we do about it?
In Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV, Jennifer L. Pozner, founder and executive director of Women In Media & News (WIMN), takes a fierce, funny, and in-depth look at how reality TV affects our beliefs, our behavior, and our culture. This genre encourages us to think less and buy more… but Pozner isn’t buying. Instead, she lays out the deep-seated biases reality TV promotes about women and men, race and class, love and marriage, sex and beauty, advertising and consumption, and more. Drawing on a decade of journalistic research, she connects the dots between reality TV’s hostile representations of women and people of color to decades of similarly harsh narratives in news media and politics. When Tyra Banks shames a poor, single mother of color for her “defeatist attitude” and claims she doesn’t want to work hard on America’s Next Top Model, Pozner hears echoes of diatribes against so-called “lazy welfare queens” in 1980s and early 1990s journalism. And what else are Wife Swap and Nanny 9-11, she asks, if not a continuation of that factually specious yet ever-present old media chestnut, the “Mommy Wars”?
Reality Bites Back deconstructs reality TV’s twisted fairytales, demonstrating that far from harmless “guilty pleasures,” this genre has a damaging impact on our intellectual and political development. Pozner offers readers a new way of looking at the manipulative framing—and social ramifications—of their favorite shows, urging us to banish the phrase “mindless entertainment” from our collective vocabulary. Exposing behind-the-scenes production employed to “get the kids to go to Crazy Town,” she blows the lid off the claim that unscripted programming simply portrays “real people” with “real emotions.” She reveals how producers, writers, editors, and embedded advertisers spin fictions out of whole cloth—and lays bare their ideological and commercial agendas.
Smart, engaging and eye-opening, Reality Bites Back arms readers with the tools they need to understand and challenge media stereotypes, and to advocate healthier alternatives. Resource-filled chapters like “Fun with Media Literacy” help readers to become more conscious, critical media consumers, while the solution-oriented conclusion, “What Are You Going To Do?” provides a variety of easy, engaging strategies readers can use to demand accountability from the corporations responsible for this contemporary cultural attack on women.
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