Elevate Difference

Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV

Reality TV has infiltrated the media to such an extreme extent that it is increasingly difficult to escape its reach. Even those of us who consider ourselves media literate and savvy in our consumption of television have to admit to watching the occasional episode of Project Runway, America’s Next Top Model, or The Real Housewives of New Jersey. They’re our guilty pleasures; the kind of TV we watch while wearing a Snuggie and eating a bowlful (or two) of Ben and Jerry’s. We don’t always readily admit to watching these shows, and when we do come clean, we insist it’s for the absurdity of it all and that we’re quite aware of effects of this kind of TV.

Jennifer Pozner warns us of this type of complacent thinking in Reality Bites Back and backs it up with compelling examples pulled straight from our TVs. Toddlers are glam-ified and paraded around in Toddlers and Tiaras to meet the beauty standards put forth by Tyra Banks in America’s Next Top Model. Sometimes women need help to meet these standards, and thanks to The Swan, they can achieve them and go on to be evaluated once again by a panel of judges. Shows like Flavor of Love and The Bachelor depict women as catty, bitchy, and willing to do whatever it takes to win the affections of a man (as long as he’s wealthy). Non-Caucasian women see that they are expected to act and are portrayed as stereotypes, whether that be a saucy, va-va-voom Latina or a meek, obedient China doll.

Are we aware of all of this? Yes, to a certain extent. But we are not immune to it and Pozner points out the consequences in such clear detail that it’s impossible not to feel a bit guilty. However, Pozner does not seek to shame us into not watching reality TV, but rather to help effect change through widespread media literacy and campaigns to make TV more responsible for their programming and the messages they send. The last chapter ends on this note and includes the input of various educators and activists on how to accomplish this goal. In the end, Pozner manages to heavily critique reality TV without denigrating those of us who watch it. Her tone makes the message palatable, and she successfully gets the point across with her vast amount of knowledge and research.

Written by: Shana Mattson, January 3rd 2011