|Reality Bites Back: the Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV by Jennifer L. Pozner (Seal Press)|
While there are huge swaths of this book I'd like to quote, I've chosen a passage from the chapter "Unraveling Reality TV's Twisted Fairytales: Cinderellas and Cautionary Tales," which focuses on reality dating programs (such as The Bachelor). It's often simple to dismiss such programming, but like all media, these programs do significant work in cultural norming, and we don't always understand how powerful the messages are.
On fairytale imagery:
For women, these representations conjure our earliest memories--of the stories our parents read to us before bed, of the cartoons that danced in our imaginations, telling us what we could (and should) look forward to when we grew up. No matter how independent we might be as adults, how cynical we consider ourselves, or how hard we've worked to silence external cultural conditioning, decades of sheer repetition make it extremely difficult to fully purge societal standards from our psyches. Simply put, it's damn near impossible to live completely outside the culture, no matter how well we try to shield ourselves from its impact.
Regardless of where we fall on this continuum--from conscious refusal to let childish notions inform our love lives to enthusiastic embrace of fantasies we've nursed since we were little girls--producers play on these deep-seated ideas about gender, love, and romance for ratings. This, in part, is what Mike Darnell was talking about when he told Entertainment Weekly that the secret to airing a successful reality TV show is to create a premise that is "steeped in some social belief." And, as we'll soon see, similar stereotypes about race, class, beauty, and sexual orientation are endemic, even necessary, to reality TV--in all its forms.
I believe that media literacy is the education issue of our time. While many people are cynically aware that they're being sold products in television--through both traditional advertising and product placement--they're less savvy about the ideas and cultural norms being sold to them. As Pozner points out, it's the "sheer repetition" of the regressive ideas and images in reality TV that has a lasting effect on our views of women, in particular.