Author visits MU, calls reality TV a threat to women

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | 11:07 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Tuning into reality TV shows can be a guilty pleasure for some, but media critic and author Jennifer Pozner asserts that reality TV is bad for women.

Pozner, author of “Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV,” visited MU's Stotler Lounge on Wednesday night to explain how reality television presents a distorted image of American society.


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Reality television presents women as “gold diggers, bimbos and bitches,” and women of color in particular are represented as “violent, low-class whores,” according to Pozner's Project Brainwash.

But since reality television is cheap to produce and allows advertisers to engage in product placement without regulation, Pozner said, more popular scripted shows can be bumped off the air in favor of the less popular, but more lucrative, reality shows.

Pozner's presentation showed clips from shows such as "The Bachelor," "America's Next Top Model" and "Flavor of Love" to illustrate her point that reality TV presents a stereotypical view of femininity, women's worth and standards of beauty. 

"The core of reality TV is to exploit and confuse viewers into believing that some of the most base stereotypes are simply real when they are hyper-edited tropes to perpetuate gender, race and class biases," Pozner said.

Reality television is becoming a pervasive part of American culture, according to Psychology Today.

Although the majority of reality television programming is geared towards people under 25 years old, it is likely that a wider age demographic is starting to tune into reality television as well, according to Kristin L. Cherry’s  2008 study, “Reality TV and Interpersonal Relationship Perceptions."

Reality television "makes women, and especially women of minorities, into caricatures, and those things play into your subconscious," Jade Earle, an MU junior, said after the presentation.

Dating shows in particular perpetuate the belief that all women want is to settle down with a husband, Pozner said. Shows where one man has the power to choose from many women play on the idea that men will rescue them and whisk them away to a fairytale. Pozner said this creates a world where women have no real choices and don't even want any.

Pozner explained the notion of gender essentialism, a theory that presents women and men in very specific, narrow molds. For example, Pozner said women are portrayed as catty, stupid goldiggers while men are breadwinners and Prince Charmings, though some have violent pasts. 

Reality shows also use a technique Pozner terms "Frankenbites," where moments involving emotion and drama are taken out of context and mixed around during the course of the show for entertainment value.

"Women's humiliation is the money shot in reality TV," she said.

Pozner said the best way to try to solve some of these problems would be getting involved with groups that bring attention to the representations of women on television and encourage media literacy. She said at the core, people must not be passive viewers and should work to think critically about media they consume. 

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