She had me at, “I call bullshit” (on p. 14 of the Introduction.)
“She” is Jennifer Pozner, and the book is Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV. This is actually the last book I read last year. Yes. I’m that far behind. So let me get to it.
Pozner set out to explain our “social beliefs” and how networks, advertisers and media owners exploit them for profit through reality television — and what we can do about it. I must say, she did a mighty fine job.
She drags reality television, kicking and screaming, out into the light of day and shows it for what it is. I can’t help but think of this page of photographs of women arrested for prostitution.*
On the surface, reality television looks all sparkly and pretty and maybe even a little princess-y. (That’s my nod to Peggy Orenstein. More on her book in a later post.) Or, at the very least, clean and presentable. It’s all the soft lighting, candles and makeup. (Well, until we get to Jersey Shore.) In the harsh sunlight, though, reality television looks more like the last picture on each row of photos (their eighth arrest) than the first.
Pozner doesn’t admonish anyone for watching reality television. Instead, she wants to educate everyone about media literacy, critical thinking and healthy skepticism.
She covers everything from “twisted fairy tales,” in which humiliation is the flip side of “happily ever after,” to supermodel shows, eating disorders and battered self-esteem.
She mentions a red-carpet moment at the 2009 Emmys, where Ryan Seacrest told Jenna Fischer, “Congratulations on being a size 0,” as if that were a laudatory achievement — disappearing into nothing. (Now I know why it bothered me so much how Seacrest fawned all over Jennifer Hudson this year, after she showed up everywhere thinner than ever, thanks to a contract she signed with a weight-loss company.)
Pozner only mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer a couple of times in the book, but I knew she was a fan, believing Buffy to be a strong, positive female character. A feminist, even. Wow, I thought. I’ve never had the slightest interest in watching that show. I was far enough removed from high school that a cast of high-school students had little appeal. (OK. So that doesn’t explain why I enjoy Glee now, although there is a tiny Joss Whedon thread there, I suppose.) Besides, I cut my eye teeth on Stephen King. I figured I’d had enough ghoulishness to last a lifetime.
But the topic kept popping up, and I started to wonder, should I at least watch one episode.
Nah. Why should I? I don’t need to waste my time on that. (*cough*)
Apparently, my possessed dvr had other ideas. (Yeah, I think I’ll start calling it Christine now.) I sat down one night in my comfy chair, checked my list of recorded shows and chose RuPaul’s Drag Race. (OK. Now you know. RuPaul is my guilty-pleasure TV.) There were several episodes, so I thought I’d settle in and catch up. Guess what came on? Buffy. I swear. On every single RuPaul show. Somebody thought I should watch some Buffy, so I did. And I could see what Pozner was saying.
She also covers everything else — from embedded advertising to unapologetic misogyny, racism and violence. She watched hundreds of hours of reality television … so I don’t have to. She went behind the scenes to explain how things work and whose interests drive reality television. Guess what. It’s not your interests. She ends with a section of media literacy and a ton of great resources.
It really is a must-read.
“If we care about independent thought, artistic integrity, and cultural diversity, we must demand that programming improve, not accept its erosion with a yawn.” (p. 295)
*This is a copy of page 246 in Carolyn B. Maloney‘s book Rumors of our Progress have been Greatly Exaggerated: Why Women’s Lives Aren’t Getting Any Easier and How We Can Make Real Progress for Ourselves and Our Daughters, which I wrote about a while ago. It was originally published by Prism magazine in 2007, and Maloney said it made the strongest case against sex trafficking she had ever seen.
It’s not clear to me what The Shriver Report’s point is, except it doesn’t seem to be a call to action. It does, however, declare the battle of the sexes over. It’s all rather retro to dredge up a “battle” that saw Billie Jean King defeat Bobby Riggs in a tennis match, which was dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes.” That “battle” was essentially a publicity stunt.
Is that what this is? A publicity stunt? If so, to what end?
Established in 1961, the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women was a compromise by John F. Kennedy, who didn’t want to alienate his supporters who were against the Equal Rights Amendment. Maybe The Shriver Report is a compromise to its sponsors, advisers and the rest of corporate America, which is adamantly opposed to legislation that requires equality and/or benefits of any kind.
At least 139 countries provide paid sick leave to employees, but this “woman’s nation” does not.
Almost 100 countries require employers to provide paid annual leave, but this “woman’s nation” does not.
Women in this “woman’s nation” get the same amount of paid maternity leave as women do in Lesotho, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland: zero.
Men in this “woman’s nation” get the same amount of paid paternity leave: zero.
It is legal in most states of this “woman’s nation” for employers to discriminate against mothers.
While illegal, women in this “woman’s nation” deal with pregnancy discrimination every day.
At least 84 countries have a maximum length workweek, but this “woman’s nation” — whose workweek length was second only to Japan’s hours among industrialized countries — does not.
At least 34 countries guarantee discretionary leave from work — Greece and Switzerland offer paid leave specifically for children’s educational needs — but this “woman’s nation” does not.
Women in this “woman’s nation” still earn less than men do, and mothers earn less than anyone.
Knowing all that, it’s confusing to see Shriver on national television talking about flex time as if that were the most pressing issue American women faced every day. Imagine my surprise when I read the report and saw things like equal pay mentioned.
Even so, what does it mean that American women comprise half the workforce? Nothing. Especially if women have no power (or very limited power) to implement change or write policy. It means nothing until women make up half of Congress, half the boards of directors and half the executive teams that run American businesses.
How do some of The Shriver Report sponsors and advisory-committee members measure up in terms of women in positions of power? Let’s see.
That’s how I feel about The Shriver Report, only worse. Yes, the Rockefeller Foundation/TIME survey of 3,400 people provided new data, as highlighted in a special report in TIME, The State of the American Woman, What Women Want Now by Nancy Gibbs, Oct. 26, 2009. But the rest of the essays feel so out of date and certainly undeserving of a breathless media blitz. Maybe it’s “news” to someone who hasn’t read a thing on the subject in 30 years. But for others it might feel as stale and out of place as the term “battle of the sexes.”
Oprah Winfrey says in the epilogue that the report’s intent is to start a conversation. Hello? When she and Shriver weren’t listening, the conversation had already begun.
Simon & Schuster published The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything edited by Heather Boushey and Ann O’Leary, with Karen Skelton, Ed Paisley, Leslie Miller, and Laura Nicholson Oct. 20, 2009. The eBook includes an introductory chapter by Maria Shriver. It lists for $20, but I got my copy for $16 with a $4 discount code.
Headline: “Capitol Hill goes gaga over Brad Pitt.” Read the breathless AP copy and you might think the press went a little gaga too. I mean, dig the photos. One mug shot isn’t enough. Here’s an entire montage, showing Pitt looking left, then looking right, then raising his eyebrows … you know, in case you want to rip it out of the pages of Tiger Beat and tape it to your bedroom wall.
Pelosi mentioned Pitt’s work in New Orleans and how he “serves as a model for the rest of the country.” Model … how? What exactly has he done? What does he plan to do? How does it all work? What does this have to do with what’s happening in Washington, D.C., today?
Pelosi didn’t explain any of those things. Neither did anyone else.
Have you heard about the “miracle on the Hudson” yet? It’s the plane that went down in the Hudson River yesterday. Everyone on board survived.
It’s nice to have good news, right? Sure, but our media seem somewhat uncomfortable with the whole idea.
I heard about the crash on Facebook, and I didn’t see anything about it on television until later.
I watched Larry King interview two doctors who treated people from the flight. One was in the studio. The other stood outside, probably getting dangerously close to this hypothermia he kept talking about. His nose was red, and his words got more slurred each time they went back to him.
Anyway, at some point, someone told King that everyone survived.
“Hunh,” King said, followed by a weird little silence.
This morning, I watched part of the news conference with the mayor and the rescuers. Some of the questions couldn’t quite get the whole “good news” idea.
“How cold was the water and how long would it take for someone to DIE in it?”
“How does this mission compare with others you have been on?” (You know, others where people DIED?)
The news conference was so relaxed that it even made time for a Spanish-speaking rescuer to take a question from a Spanish-speaking reporter … in Spanish … which CNN, of course, immediately started chattering over, recapping the unbelievable story in which nobody DIED.
Anyone read The Sun? (It’s “an independent, ad-free monthly magazine that for more than thirty years has used words and photographs to invoke the splendor and heartache of being human.”)
My favorite part is the “Readers Write” section. Not to disparage the “emerging and established artists” who write for the magazine, but “Readers Write” often packs a wallop. It sort of reminds me of Post Secrets thing.
The magazine comes up with a list of broad topics requiring non-fiction writing from readers, and the readers … they write.
Right from the start I found it all too easy to accommodate my only son. He was well-behaved, got good grades, and smiled easily. I wanted him to be happy, no matter what it took. Even his potential pain was more than I could bear. (They really should come with instruction manuals.)
Over the years I said yes a lot — to speed skates, bmx bikes, the latest shoes, and the smelly hair product that rendered his beautiful curly hair straight so it would match everyone else’s at school. When he asked for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle birthday cake, I got out the green food coloring and used white Chiclets for the turtle’s teeth.
That little boy with the easy smile is all grown up now. Every Wednesday I wait for my phone to ring. The calls come from a state correctional facility surrounded by tall fences topped with razor wire. When the automated operator asks if I will accept the collect call, I press 1 to say yes.
I’ve seen Campbell Brown on television for years. I watched her (on and off) do election coverage during the campaign, and I saw her “free Sarah Palin” opinion piece.
Then I caught one of her first No Bias. No Bull. shows, where she said she planned to hold President-elect Barack Obama accountable for all the promises he made during the campaign. I thought, yeah, OK, we’ll see. Then I never watched again. Oh, I planned to watch and even programmed the show into my DVR. But I never got around to watching.
Then I caught about three minutes of tonight’s show, where she takes on Gov. Edward G. Rendell, D-Pa., for perpetuating stereotypes about women. He said that Gov. Janet Napolitano, D-Ariz., would be perfect for the job of Secretary of Homeland Security (she’s Obama’s nominee for the job) because she “has no life” and “has no family.”
Hmm. I might have to check out the ones left on my machine.
In case you missed it, Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, appeared on last weekend’s Saturday Night Live.
My only criticism for Alec Baldwin is, hey, we know she’s not Tina. Quit calling her Tina. As if we didn’t hear you the first three times. Oh, and, “Everything WE stand for,” you said to Lorne Michaels? Even though you’ve given twice as much money to political candidates, Michaels has supported John McCain for years. Just sayin’.
Other than that, I don’t know what kind of heat Baldwin is getting about the whole thing or to whom he’s responding, but he had this to say yesterday.
Saturday Night Live is a comedy show. It’s not Meet the Press. It doesn’t “ask the tough questions” or “set the agenda.” It attempts, with varying degrees of success, to make people laugh. That’s it.