On Wednesday Oct. 17, Jennifer Pozner, journalist and media critic, gave a talk discussing the dark side of the growing reality television industry.
The second lecturer in this year’s All-College Hour series, Pozner is the founder and executive director of Women in Media and News and the author of Reality Bites Back. Her lecture, which took place in the College Union Ballroom, was titled, “Project Brainwash: Why Reality TV is Bad for Women (…and Men, People of Color, The Economy, Love, Sex and Sheer Common Sense!)”
Pozner opened the forum with an episode from the web miniseries “Reality Rehab,” a spoof of VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” which touches upon common stereotypes depicted by reality shows. She then explained the increase in reality shows on TV.
“I want to debunk reality TV’s biggest lie of all: that they’re just here to meet public demand,” said Pozner. “Actually [reality shows] cost 50 to 70 percent less than scripted series to produce.”
Because of this, reality shows with low ratings may still be more profitable than scripted shows that receive high ratings. According to Pozner, advertisements are another contributing factor to the profits surrounding the reality show business.
“Advertisers spent $235.6 billion in just 2009,” she said. This money went to both commercials and product placement. Advertisers get to partner with the show’s producers when it comes to casting, narrating, concept and more, thus allowing them to work their products seamlessly into the script.
Due to advertising partnerships, Pozner said, advertisers’ images of women are intertwined in these reality shows.
According to Pozner, a survey by the Girl Scouts in 2011 found that “girls who regularly watch reality TV are more likely to think a girl’s value is based primarily on her looks; they are less likely to trust other girls and are more likely to accept and expect a higher level of drama and bullying in their lives.”
Pozner then showed a series of clips of Simon Cowell’s comments on Fox’s “American Idol” or Tyra Bank’s criticisms on the CW’s “America’s Next Top Model,” a show in which women are judged solely on appearances.
Pozner said, “For women, [reality television] looks like an unrelenting, unending beauty contest.”
She said that women on these shows are also cast to fit the stereotypes surrounding their races.
“Black women have been labeled manipulative divas, Latinas are spicy or hoochie and Asian women, who are rarely shown, are portrayed as hypersexual or passive,” Pozner said. Highlighting these negative stereotypes, Pozner showed clips of women on VH1’s “Flavor of Love” having “booty dance-off competitions” and physically fighting with each other, while the women on ABC’s “The Bachelor” were treated to horse and carriage rides and fancy dinners.
Forum attendees responded favorably to Pozner’s sentiments.
“I think this is fantastic,” said freshman Claire Blaney. “I see these things when I’m watching television, and I think this was a wonderful opportunity to see what [Pozner] has to say about this topic. I really appreciate her work.”