Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV by Jennifer L. Pozner

From Goodreads:
Nearly every night on every major network, “unscripted” (but carefully crafted) “reality” TV shows routinely glorify retrograde stereotypes that most people would assume got left behind 35 years ago. 
In Reality Bites Back, media critic Jennifer L. Pozner aims a critical, analytical lens at a trend most people dismiss as harmless fluff. She deconstructs reality TV’s twisted fairytales to demonstrate that far from being simple “guilty pleasures,” these programs are actually guilty of fomenting gender-war ideology and significantly affecting the intellectual and political development of this generation’s young viewers. She lays out the cultural biases promoted by reality TV about gender, race, class, sexuality, and consumerism, and explores how those biases shape and reflect our cultural perceptions of who we are, what we’re valued for, and what we should view as “our place” in society. 
Smart and informative, Reality Bites Back arms readers with the tools they need to understand and challenge the stereotypes reality TV reinforces and, ultimately, to demand accountability from the corporations responsible for this contemporary cultural attack on three decades of feminist progress. 
Very well done in terms of research and documentation.  I'm a huge stickler for showing where your information comes from in non-fiction, and Pozner does a great job of this.  You can tell that she has put a lot of time into her research and analysis of reality TV.  Not only is the research done well, the analysis is spot on and done with humor and wit.  It's dense at times, but very readable and the tone makes it fun.

Entertainment Value
I will confess that reality TV is one of my weaknesses.  Especially the Real Housewives.  It's the one thing I miss about having cable, since we turned ours off last month.  I've also been known to revel in the drama of America's Next Top Model, Project Runway, and the "documentary" shows of TLC (Sister Wives!).  Of course I know that much of it is staged and directed, but I haven't given much thought to it, outside of regarding it as mindless entertainment.  So when I saw Roxane Gay mention this in Bad Feminist, I knew I needed to try it.

It wound up challenging a lot of my ideas about just how mindless the entertainment is.  I hadn't every really spent time considering the racist and sexist undertones of reality programming, but this book really brings to light how troubling many aspects of the programs I enjoy are.  And while I can't say that I'll be giving up reality TV altogether, I'll certainly be viewing it with a more discerning eye.

I highly recommend this for fans of reality TV as well as those who are interested in racial, sexual, and body image issues in popular culture.  It's absolutely fascinating and the author's sense of humor makes it fun rather than dry.

1 comment:

  1. This makes me feel pretty great about hardly ever watching reality TV! :) I think that's part of what has always annoyed me about it though. In the competition shows (Survivor, Bachelorette, etc) women are often portrayed as mindless and used as obvious sex objects...and it's not much better on non-competition shows either. This wouldn't have been my first stated reason if someone asked me why I don't watch them, but it's absolutely a factor.