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"By no means am I saying that these shows aren’t compelling. They are."
December 13, 2011 10:34 AM   Subscribe

What Reality TV Does To Girls - referencing Jennifer Pozner's book and a new Girl Scout Research Institute national survey, this piece discusses "how did we get here?" and "how does this affect the viewer?" Jennifer Pozner talks about her work in Maclean's in much more depth.
posted by flex (27 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Reality TV is not healthy for children and other living things.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:40 AM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have plenty of reasons to avoid reality TV.

But another one won't hurt.
posted by oddman at 10:46 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


reality TV is establishing new standards of interpersonal behavior that are, at best, psychotic, and at worst, insidiously abhorrent, self-obsessed, consumerist, racist, homophobic and misogynistic.

This is why I recommend a diet of nothing but the Puppy Channel.

There are worse things. Alex Jones videos for one.
posted by bukvich at 10:48 AM on December 13, 2011


My beef with all of this is that there's no such thing as "reality TV" in any useful or meaningful way. Trying to lump together all the super-trashy stuff with the actually interesting competition stuff, plus the straight-up documentary stuff, results in a total inability to say anything that means anything. You have to use very extreme examples for the simple reason that they're extreme -- that's why you have arguments where the primary example is Joe Millionaire, which was a phenomenon for a few months in 2003 and died instantly when they tried to bring it back -- and which was part of a boomlet in hookup shows that are almost completely gone now, with the exception of the weirdly Victorian Bachelor franchise. There's not a lot of point to talking about Joe Millionaire now.

Reality shows now are split between the competitive shows, the "interesting job" shows, the sad-story shows, the silly-gossip-trash shows, the variety shows ... and while some of them are horrifying, there isn't much that can be said without more specificity. It's like trying to talk about "TV dramas" without specifying whether you're talking about "Mad Men" or "Hawaii Five-0."
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:10 AM on December 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


On the one hand, I am utterly allergic to all forms of reality television. On the other hand panicking about "what is the latest pop culture thing doing to our children?!?" is as old as pop culture and always looks pretty silly with the benefit of hindsight (1950s comic book hysteria anyone?).

Yeah, taking Kim Kardashian as your One True God is probably a bad idea, but then, is that really how teens consume these shows?
posted by yoink at 11:10 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's nothing "real" about any of the reality TV. It's just "less scripted TV".
posted by LoudMusic at 11:13 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The teens with whom I regularly interact include some who watch "Kardashians" and "16 and Pregnant" and other similar shows. I ask them why they do and they say "its fun - its like gawking at a traffic accident."

They don't behave much like the people on TV, but they sure love mocking them.

I imagine there are plenty of people who don't get the joke and try to emulate their behavior, but I've been fortunate not to run into any of them.

tl;dr: Don't panic. There is hope for the future. Just not much.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:14 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


By chance, I read TheLastPsychiatrist's latest post today, Luxury Branding the Future Leaders of the World. At the end he writes something that resonates with what I've feared I'm noticing as well:
"The system at one time wanted the office woman to be a simulacrum of a woman, all silhouettes and shades and posture, the stockings looking more like an idealized pair of gams than real gams ever could. Burning the bras wasn't nearly as liberating as getting rid of the pantyhose.

"This is why the return of pantyhose is so revealing; hose represents a return to that sublimated female sexuality; to the more dangerous implicit, not explicit, masculine control of the sex. It isn't just like the 1960s, it is a retreat to the 1960s."


So when this reality show article quotes Pozner with this next part, I can't help but see it all fit together (empasis in the original):
"Reality TV producers are diametrically opposed to women's liberation, portraying the female population as ditzy and inept workers, wives and mothers.... reality TV isn't simply reflecting anachronistic social biases, it's resurrecting them. The genre has done what the most ardent fundamentalists have never been able to acheive: They've created a universe in which women not only have no real choices, they don't even want any."
posted by fraula at 11:18 AM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't think I agree that you can't talk about Reality Shows in general -- there are different sub-genres, yes, but they all employ people who create plots and characters out of raw footage, they all deliberately put their participants in stressful situations in order to get a reaction, etc, and while some of them are more or less egregiously fraudulent in how they do that, it's clear that all of them do, even the ones that are pretty good, like Project Runway or Amazing Race.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:25 AM on December 13, 2011


Is the advertising down the right side of that web site supposed to be ironic, or is the article a joke? I can't tell.
posted by trackofalljades at 11:31 AM on December 13, 2011


yes, but they all employ people who create plots and characters out of raw footage

Sure. In the same way all dramas shoot scenes where characters interact with settings. Hawaii Five-0 and Mad Men share characteristics also.

I'm not saying you cannot say anything about them. I'm saying you cannot say anything about them that is particularly useful or interesting unless you explain which ones you are talking about. Pozner herself will tell you that her observations don't really apply across the board; they're aimed primarily at particular shows and kinds of shows. The things you cite -- creating plots and characters out of raw footage -- apply to many documentary films as well. The lines between what's a documentary and what's a reality show are very, very fine at times, and I've seen documentaries that would be considered reality shows if you broke them up and aired them on TV.

All I'm saying is that anything interesting that can be said about unscripted shows probably needs to be narrowed down to which ones we're talking about, because not much applies to all of them except the most vague generalizations about the mechanics of how they're made.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:33 AM on December 13, 2011


There's nothing "real" about any of the reality TV. It's just "less scripted TV".

I think you're missing the point. I doubt anybody's contesting that. The links are examining the constructed "reality" of (some of) these shows and pointing out the pernicious effects that they might have on more impressionable segments of their audience.
posted by synecdoche at 11:37 AM on December 13, 2011


One interesting fact that folks who have studied the history of cinema will already know...in that Vimeo embed there's a statistic quoted about the relatively small amount of "clout" positions that women hold in media today and one of the positions mentioned is video/film editing.

During the headiest days of the studio era of Hollywood when it first rose to power and became, through economic influences and the outcomes of war, the most powerful and hegemonic force in media the world had ever known, do you know how many of those films were being edited by women?

Nearly all of them.
posted by trackofalljades at 11:42 AM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


there's a statistic quoted about the relatively small amount of "clout" positions that women hold in media today and one of the positions mentioned is video/film editing

I may be wrong, but I suspect it would be news to most film editors that they hold a position with "clout." I don't think any film in the history of film has ever been greenlit because an editor said they'd be willing to work on it.
posted by yoink at 11:47 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm saying you cannot say anything about them that is particularly useful or interesting unless you explain which ones you are talking about.

Well, if you declare the things you can say about them -- that they present larger-than-life versions of the participants and either goad or edit them into fitting into pre-conceptualized stereotyped boxes -- to be uninteresting, then I suppose that becomes tautological.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:47 AM on December 13, 2011


I don't think reality TV is bad for women or girls. I think it's bad for people.

Seriously. Men don't come off much better here. It's like every negative stereotype in the book.

And, wow, that site is full of grar.
posted by schmod at 11:49 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I will agree that to say "reality TV" and be done with it is not very illuminating. What those two words, by themselves, bring to mind, is the quick-cutting, licensed-pop-song-playing, emotion-manufacturing shows that populate MTV and VH1 or whatever else.

But then if you look at How It's Made, or Dirty Jobs, or Mythbusters, or Lockup, you see that reality shows have quite a bit more potential than that, and have realized quite a bit more potential than that. Even a show that's just silly fluff like the pawn shop shows is harmless, and while somewhat exploitative the shows about little people aren't really setting a bad example for anyone.

I think if you think about the key differences between something like Jersey Shore and something like Dirty Jobs is the demographics of people who watch them. The Discovery/TLC/History Channel shows are generally being watched by older people, while the MTV/VH1 shows (and to some extent the E! and Bravo ones) skew much younger. And you know what? 20 years ago, everybody said that the boring, responsible adults now watching How It's Made were destroying their minds with MTV and Married with Children.

Young people watch stupid stuff. They get over it. World keeps spinning.
posted by mellow seas at 12:10 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, if you declare the things you can say about them -- that they present larger-than-life versions of the participants and either goad or edit them into fitting into pre-conceptualized stereotyped boxes -- to be uninteresting, then I suppose that becomes tautological.

In fairness, you've changed your argument. You originally said they all create characters and stories from raw footage, and I agreed. Now you're saying they all do it with malice and the specific intent to reinforce prejudices and stereotypes. I don't happen to agree that that's something that applies to every unscripted show on TV.

I agree with you that it's important as to the shows where it applies. I just don't agree that it applies across the board. I am not arguing with the importance of what you're condemning; I'm only differing with you as to the breadth with which it applies.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:17 PM on December 13, 2011


I read her book a couple of weeks ago-- well when I say "read" I mean I read about half and that was enough for me. The author is relentless in discussing at great length everything that is wrong about candid reality shows, to the point where I just had had enough. There are just a few main themes that get hammered over and over in her book and on TV. For example that women are gold-diggers. Do you really need an entire chapter on how reality TV pushes the idea that women are only interested in marrying men with money?

I watch a few competitive reality TV shows like Work of Art and Project Runway. I also watch Soup which gives me enough exposure to the trashy kind of reality-- the booze slurping, fake tan wearing, curse spewing, hair pulling, genital rubbing stars of Jersey Shore, Tool Academy, Rock of Love and all the rest. Those shows are unbelievably gross and it astonishes me that anyone would have the stomach to watch more than a few seconds but hopefully it isn't impressing anyone as a possible life style. My daughter was watching Sweet Sixteen when she herself was about to turn 16. She knew those girls were spoiled and rotten and not any happier than herself, but I supposed it was a little fantasy time-- much like shop girls used to read novels about shop girls marrying Dukes.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:18 PM on December 13, 2011


The problem with these shows isn't the explicit content but the background radiation. Sure, the people who watch mostly do it at a remove, maybe to laugh at the ridiculous women or whatever, but they have to sort of accept the (usually gross) premise of the show in order to get involved, and that kind of sneaks into the brain along with information about what's attractive, important, feminine, etc. that's too low-level and ubiquitous to notice and therefore question. Watch too much of it and you get a kind of cancer. I mean, remember that Beauty and the Geek show? Would you let a ten-year-old girl watch that? It's like lead poisoning for a kid that age.
posted by Adventurer at 1:27 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


"much like shop girls used to read novels about shop girls marrying Dukes"

For a minute there, I thought you were talking about Bo and Luke Duke, and I was right back in 4th grade.
posted by HopperFan at 1:27 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Reality TV is why I cut cable. I am much happier not tripping over one of these programs while channel surfing. As angry and miserable as they made me, I couldn't seem to resist them.
posted by Hutch at 1:28 PM on December 13, 2011


What reality TV does for boys: It makes them think that they won't have any body hair until they're in their 40s and that it's normal to look like (and be) a juiced-up, waxed bodybuilder even after weeks of eating coconut and hermit crabs on a desert island.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:29 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


For a minute there, I thought you were talking about Bo and Luke Duke, and I was right back in 4th grade.

You go right ahead and fantasize about marrying Luke Duke, I'll be over in the corner dreaming about becoming Mrs. William Garrow (yeah, my husband Knows All and tries not to be jealous.)

After reading my previous post I realized that I may have come off sounding dismissive of her claims--I'm not, I just don't have the time, money or influence to do anything about it and I'm tired of being GRRRRed up about things I can't change.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:38 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


A lot of reality TV is boring and dumb, but I think if Jersey Shore has taught us anything, it's that you take from it what you already figured: that drinking to excess while being filmed by reality tv crews is not a great idea because either your boob will fall out or you might give someone a crotch shot. (Though I think we also learned that when Meredith came to work in a tube dress on Casual Day on The Office.)

I started watching the Kardashian shows because they were instantly available on Netflix and I was in the mood for it. They're just people. A lot of people I know demonize them as a means of signifying that they are intellectually superior than us morons who watch the show, but I don't understand the level of vitriol directed towards them by people who claim they haven't even watched the show. There's something I really like about the sisters when they fight, and specifically, it's that when push comes to shove, no matter how angry they are at each other, when something bad happens, they manage to resolve it. I like how they are playful with each other and protective of each other, and also loving towards each other even though they fight with one another. They really do love each other, and it's nice to see that they can fight and makeup, like real sisters do.

I mean, if I made a sex tape that an ex had leaked (like old Kim Kardashian), I don't know if I would have the strength to ever see my family or the light of day again. I would not have been able to consider them being kind and supportive because I'd have been so busy hating myself and being too embarrassed to do anything but beat myself up. I think it's wonderful that her parents have been sympathetic to her for the mistakes she made. It's great that they stay on her side.

And their mom, as annoying as she is, is a typical mom: flawed, imperfect, dying to be a big sister instead of a mom (and failing miserably), but ultimately interested in protecting her brood at whatever cost in whatever bumbly, fumbly way she can. She is reduced to idiocity like parents often are and she helps them in the way she's able. She's not that smart, but she does what she can to help them become financially stable (and keeping the managerial fee in the family) and secure since two of them don't have college degrees but do have qualities that can be turned into money, and stay on good terms with each other.

Are the Kardashians brilliant people? No. But the world is full of people who aren't brilliant (and who are able to make more money than I can). Takes all kinds, right?

Then again, I can't bear to watch the 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom. Aziz Ansari and I are in total agreement about it being the saddest show on TV.
posted by anniecat at 2:09 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


American Pickers! My recent favorite show. Two dorky, goofy, genuinely nice and fair guys having a grand time digging through old barns and lamenting the loss of great quality American manufacturing from the early and mid 20th century. They meet interesting people and hear fascinating stories about days gone by.

There is also a cool, tough chick in the office (though they insist on doing sort of forced-silly phone calls with her). And they bicker a lot. But it is all so damn good-natured it is hard not to love it. It may be a reality show too, but SO far removed from Jersey Shore and the Housewives type shows.

I did watch some Flavor of Love and Rock of Love with a sort of can't-look-away-from-the-train-wreck type awe at one time, but I'm not interested anymore. It's probably obvious to say, but it seems those kind of shows teach women to be hateful to each other (or reinforce it, anyway). Which is pretty awful and depressing.
posted by Glinn at 3:34 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meh. Someone once said "...the only*real* reality TV is the security camera at the 7-11..."
posted by dbmcd at 5:00 PM on December 13, 2011


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