American media critic Jennifer Pozner shared, in İstanbul on Wednesday, the importance of critical thinking in a world where reality TV threatens the advancement of women’s rights.
Reality TV functions as a cultural backlash and roadblock to social progress, Pozner, founder and director of nonprofit Women in Media and News Network, told Bilgi University students.
“You’d think feminism, social movements and civil rights had never happened. Reality TV has been able to pull off what most conservatives and fundamentalists have never achieved in my country. Not only do women have no power in the reality TV world, they don’t even appear to have the desire,” Pozner said.
To university students and academics who pondered how to put a stop to the mediated misogyny, Pozner advised media literacy and collective action. Individual reality TV boycotts, Pozner explained, is useless. “Here’s a lie – that reality TV simply gives the public what it wants,” said Pozner.
“Reality shows can generate millions of dollars with product placement before selling a single commercial,” said Pozner, explaining shows with lower ratings will often outlive shows with higher public demand if they are cheaper to produce.
“What we need is media activism. This starts with media literacy education as early as elementary school as well as adults,” said Pozner about the importance of learning to deconstruct offensive and stereotypical messages in reality TV.
“The goal is to think critically. We need to ask ourselves, ‘Who’s profiting? Who’s being excluded? And who’s being degraded?’” she added.
But media literacy will not curb the active resurrection of cultural stereotypes in reality TV, Pozner pressed. The media critic and activist suggested organizing students and working with media monitoring organizations like the Women’s Media Monitoring Group (MEDİZ) to devise petitions telling advertisers they will boycott products embedded in these shows until the ads are pulled.
What does the world of reality TV look like, Pozner asked. “Well, for women, it looks like one unrelenting, unwinnable beauty contest,” she said.
Pozner, who also presented at the recent Women and Media Symposium in Antalya, supported her arguments with an inundation of clips from popular shows like “America’s Next Top Model,” “The Bachelorette” and “The Bachelor.” “I’d make the perfect wife for Bob because I’d be a servant for him,” one female contestant says on an episode of the Bachelor, in which 25 women fight over one man.
According to Pozner, characters on reality TV series may not be given a script to memorize, but producers do in a way script shows through casting, soundtracks and a heavy dose of creative editing. For every one hour of reality TV, 100 hours have been edited, Pozner said.
Women of color and even men are not immune to the harmful stereotypes of reality TV, Pozner added. While cable TV may have ended the problems of invisibility and type-casting found on network TV, Pozner pointed to cable TV shows like “Flavor of Love,” in which women of color are forced to work as maids, flip burgers and compete in erotic dance contests for “romantic dates” at fast-food chain restaurants.
And men, Pozner added, are only deemed worthy of importance and love if they are rich. “But for the most part, their appearances are spared unlike women,” she said.