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Jennifer L. Pozner discusses reality TV as backlash on PBS’ To The Contrary 4/14

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

April 13th, 2007

The short plug: tune in this weekend to PBS’s To The Contrary to hear a roundtable of liberal and conservative women debate a taped interview in which I detail my research and analysis about reality TV’s function as the cultural arm of the backlash against women (check your local listings for air times). Having monitored gender roles in reality TV dating, mating and makeover shows since 2001, discussed the topic extensively on the college lecture circuit, and now working on a book on the topic, I had a lot to say…

The back story:
When it comes to television, I’m always so much happier to do live, unedited debates than I am taped segments. My natural skepticism kicks in when I know that a fifteen or twenty minute interview will be edited down by producers to just two or three sound bite-heavy minutes. But, I have some hope that an upcoming interview I did with thePBS’s all-female news and public affairs debate show, To The Contrary, will be edited fairly and will result in an intriguing and under-discussed topic of debate.

Every weekend on To The Contrary, journalist Bonnie Erbe moderates a lively discussion between four women of different political vantage points. Each half-hour show includes three separate debates; one of these segments always involves the panelists debating the content of a taped “Behind the Headlines” interview between Erbe and a woman expert weighing in on a timely news issue.

This weekend, I’m the interviewee taking the panelists “Behind the Headlines” — directly into the smarmy underbelly of reality TV, which I describe as the cultural arm of the backlash against women. I don’t know which women will be the panelists debating my premise, but you can check your local listings to find out when the show will be airing near you. In my local market — New York — To The Contrary airs at 11:30 am on Saturday, April 14, on PBS’s Channel 13.

When we originally taped the interview months back, I discussed how, guided by the increasing influence of product placement marketers over the sets, dialog and content of these programs, the reality TV genre has become increasingly damaging in its depictions of women, from promoting dangerously unhealthy body images, to idealizing degradation and humiliation of women as the realization of “fairy tales,” to romanticizing psuedoviolent physical and verbal abuse, to depicting women as nothing more than stupid, vindictive, golddigging whores. (We taped the interview months before America’s Next Top Model made a gaggle of models pose as the murdered, mangled epitome of beauty as dead crime scene victims, but the “beautiful corpses” episode succinctly epitomizes the genre’s anti-woman ideology.)

During the interview, I also discussed the need for media accountability, and structural media reform as a needed step toward eliminating this sort of poisonous media imagery. I don’t know which aspects of Bonnie Erbe’s and my discussion will make it to air, but I hope that the “what we can do” piece — offering some initial ways concerned viewers can begin to work for media justice — will make it into the segment.

If you watch the show, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments field below.

(PS: Some of you may remember that a few months ago, I sat in as a guest member of TTC’s panel, where I debated Michele Bernard of the anti-feminist Independent Women’s Forum, Genevieve Wood of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, and Democratic commentator Irene Natividad. We tangled on topics ranging from mandatory HPV vaccinations for young girls, to whether the Bush administration has been bad for Black women’s political leadership… but my favorite pull-no-punches moment came when during the segment’s “web-0nly” feature — a short debate about the IWF’s ludicrous “Take Back the Date” campaign to mock campus anti-violence programs (with phrases like, “feminists have killed cupid.” I so enjoyed ripping into that one… even though I got a phone call from some anonymous man who subtly threatened to rape me for having made a quip against men who drug women with roofies.)

PS: as always, if you’re interested in bringing WIMN to your campus or community group for a multi-media discussion about representations of women in reality TV, contact WIMN using this form, or let us know at info[at]wimnonline[dot]org

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