Backlash Bingo: Media Literacy Meets MST3K
I’ve just spent an entire book critiquing the damaging ideological and commercial biases of reality television, so I’ll forgive you if you don’t believe me when I say: I love pop culture. I swear, I do. Especially TV. I was one of those much fretted-about ’80s “latchkey kids” who spent about as much time with Roseanne at dinner as I did with my own mom. Think you can name more characters from A Different World or Murphy Brown than I can? I’ll take that bet. By the time I got to college, my friends and I had a blast shouting one-liners over intolerably bad B movies during Mystery Science Theater 3000 parties. (If you’ve never seen MST3K, get the DVDs. Really. You’ll thank me.) A ’90s-era Comedy Central-turned-Sci-Fi Channel show, MST3K was 20 percent media criticism, 80 percent lunacy. Mad scientists trap a comedian in space and force him and his robot buddies to watch the most craptacular flicks of all time. Viewers get to listen in as they mercilessly mock the likes of Sampson vs. the Vampire Women and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. The show was pure hilarity, and adding our own jokes to their running commentary made it even more fun. I developed Backlash Bingo to bring the wacky energy of MST3K to the serious business of deconstructing misogyny, racism, and commercial biases in reality television. If you’ve ever complained about how vapid female characters are in chick flicks only to be told, “Oh, relax, it’s just a movie . . . ” or been called a party pooper for not thinking that the racism in a Flavor of Love–style reality show is “hilarious,” then you know what media educators are up against. For many people, resistance is a knee-jerk response when first introduced to media criticism. Fortunately, you already have one of the most important tools you need to break through that reluctance: humor. I’ve conducted versions of this game in media literacy workshops for high school and college students, and for youth organizations—but it works just as well or better during lively TV and movie nights at home, in dorms, or at family gatherings. Photocopy the blank bingo card on page 305 and use it as a way of spreading the gospel of media literacy among your friends, relatives, classmates, colleagues, and community. Have fun!
BACKLASH BINGO A media literacy game from Women In Media & News Appropriate for all ages. Does your family watch American Idol or Project Runway together and judge from the couch? Is America’s Next Top Model appointment TV for your sorority sisters? Do you and your friends gather around to laugh at whatever hot mess VH1 is pumping out this season or discuss, Facebook, and Tweet about the latest catfights on The Real Housewives of . . . anywhere? Are you a mom, dad, older sibling, or teacher uncomfortable that kids you care about watch these series uncritically, but you don’t know how to have a productive conversation with them about the messages they’re receiving from their favorite shows? If you watch reality television with your friends, a rousing game of Backlash Bingo can add some extra fun to your group TV nights. This game can also be an enjoyable and engaging way to get kids identifying and talking about the ideas their favorite shows are selling them. (And, bonus: They won’t look at you like you’re wearing a ratty bathrobe, waving your fist, and shouting “You kids stay away from my flat-screen!”) Here’s how you play: STEP 1: On a night when you’d usually get together to watch a particular reality show, have a party at least an hour before airtime. Ask your friends, siblings, classmates, or kids—whoever normally watches TV—to list the reality shows they see regularly. Talk about what usually happens on those shows, especially the one you’re about to watch together. STEP 2: Ask yourselves questions such as:Get your own Backlash Bingo card in Reality Bites Back, or schedule a Backlash Bingo workshop with Jennifer L. Pozner today!