“Reality Bites Back” Discussion

Posted: April 21, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Reality Television in 2014 is no longer a guilty pleasure, it’s engrained into our culture. We talk about Honey Boo Boo, The Housewives of anywhere, 16 and Pregnant, and The Bachelor freely even if it is only to marvel at the train wrecks that are occurring from week to week we are invested in the lives of these people. I’ve seen passionate arguments that looked capable of ending friendships over disagreements about who should win American Idol. It can no longer be argued that these shows do not impact our culture when information about people on these shows is discussed on major news networks and made fun of on Saturday Night Live. In Reality Bites Back Jennifer L. Pozner explores the societal implications and influences of reality television on our perception of women. She argues that these shows have ingrained archaic ideals about beauty, love, ethnicity, class, and gender roles that have been detrimental to the forward movement of women in our society.
Pozner repeatedly addresses the common argument that it’s television and that we shouldn’t be taking television seriously by pointing out that these directors and producers are presenting their shows as reality which strips away the disconnect that audiences can maintain in a sitcom or tv drama. The actual reality of the situation is that what is shown on television is not what is happening on the show, everything is manipulated at the will of the producers and directors. In an interview with NPR an anonymous Bachelor producer said, “We have even gone so far as to ‘frankenbite,’ where you take somebody saying, ‘of course I’d like to say that I love him’ and cutting the bite together to say ‘of course I love him’… [It’s] misleading to the viewer and unfair to the cast member, but they sign up for this.” (Brownstein 2008). The existence of “frankenbites” proves that the directors and producers are constructing the reality they want the audience to see whether it’s that this girl is completely in love with a man she met two days ago or if it’s a girl who is in a catfight with her fellow cast member.
One of the troubling aspects of “reality” that these shows present deals with women and beauty. Pozner discusses shows like America’s Next Top Model, The Bachelor, Extreme Makeover, and What Not to Wear. She points out that all of these show emphasize beauty as the thin and white girl. The shows repeatedly show that if a woman does not meet this ideal she either has to take extreme measures to make herself look like that through risky elective procedure or she is going to be unhappy and unloved for the rest of her life.
There is also a focus on the entertainment of seeing women humiliated and crying. Pozner discusses the agendas of the producers of these shows saying that producers like Richard Fleiss “base shows on the desire to make woman extremely unhappy.” (Pozner 24) She even gets a statement from Fleiss in which he admitted: “It’s a lot of fun to watch girls crying,… Never underestimate the value of that.” Pozner goes on to discuss one show’s mistreatment and humiliation. On Fox’s Married by America a bride is left at the altar after going through the planning of her dream wedding while the audience watching knows that the groom is going to dump her. Pozner is brutal in her description of the woman’s devastation and humiliation at the hands of these producers, “The money shot in porn flicks usually involves male ejaculation. In reality TV dating shows, it comes when cameras zoom in on the tear-soaked face of some woman shattered by romantic rejection.” (53).
Audiences aren’t troubled by this treatment of women according to Pozner because the idea that they are “’real people’ behaving as they normally would in ‘real life,’ the none-too-subtle implication is that women in general may not deserve any more respect than is shown to the ones on the TV.” (56). The treatment of these woman has the potential to warp the ideals of how women themselves expect to be treated in romantic relationships. We as the audience need to keep in mind the scripting, frankenbiting, and overall fictional aspects of reality television. Just observe any cast on a reality show and you won’t see a diverse group that actually represents America’s reality, instead you will get three kinds of women according to Pozner: “Bitches and Morons and Skanks, Oh My!” is the title of chapter three in this book. She explores the limited views we get of women and how if there is any variation in race or sexual orientation those aspects are exploited in unflattering, two-dimensional ways. Especially for women of color who are only depicted as beautiful when they happen to look like their white counterparts with lighter skin and straight hair. Dark skin, kinky hair, almond-shaped eyes, wide noses are all viewed as undesirable in these shows and if cast member have any of these qualities they are turned into to a caricature of their race.
The overall goal of Pozner for this work is to analyze how reality television defines “Women” and the ideals on gender roles in relation to body, romance, marriage, home, and work. She emphasizes the reminder that “ ‘Woman’ is not a monolithic group” (21). It is important to understand reality television’s antifeminism because it is detrimental to the progression of women as leaders who are to be respected in our society. When a moderator sees no issue with asking two woman running for the United States Senate about their opinions on the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Gray we have a problem and that problem desperately needs to be addressed and fixed in our media.

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