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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Are reality TV shows sexist, or just stupid?

I've never really been a super huge reality TV fan ... but I didn't really know why they irked me so much until last night, when, while flipping past The Real World: Vegas, I heard myself suddenly saying "I just think those shows propagate horrible stereotypes about women and minorities!"

And then I was like, huh, is that really why I hate them? Maybe I'm just over-reacting and my disagreements are more aesthetic. Being a TV snob is decidedly against the rules of Egalitarian Bookworming.

I mean, sure we all know that the extreme shows, particularly the ones where ten girls fight for the right to date one guy, are pretty awful and inapproriate and every "ist" in the book. But is that what the whole genre is all about?

I tend to think so.

I really believe that (again, from the reality TV I've seen, which is limited) hysterical, bratty, bellicose women of various creeds and backgrounds are often front and center of all the plotlines and memorable moments on these shows. It's the women who punch, kick, scream and cry hysterically.I feel like they could all be subtitled "watch some hypersexed [real] women compete with each other and then one of them has a nervous breakdown!" And this is all done while they're wearing skimpy outfits. So as a result of our society's fixation on female sexuality and female bodies and the range of emotions the women on the shows can show, their exploits are always more of a focus than their compadres'.

On the other hand, while the women who are chosen for these shows are often crazy, disturbed, manipulative, whatever, the men are too. In fact, there are always a nice pack of egotistical, self-involved chauvinist white men doing their stupid white men stuff in every reality TV situation I can think of (except for Beauty and the Geek, for which I have a massive soft spot). It's just that they aren't an oppressed group, and on some level society doesn't truly condemn their assholeish behavior, even if the show pretends to. I always feel as though viewers are going to leave the finale of a series like RW being like, you know "bitches is crazy!" while very few of them will say their final impression is that "god, men are such pigs."

But in a sea of norm-reinforcing pop culture, is this really worth being inflamed about in particular? Maybe reality TV just makes everyone look bad. Maybe the sterotypes pushed onward by these shows are no worse than the race and gender roles that the sitcoms before them upheld. But somehow I feel that beneath it all, there is a strong part of reality-TV culture that's all about watching members of oppressed groups fall apart and make fools of themselves.

So, fans of Flavor of Love, Real World, Bachelor and their ilk: tell me what you think. Are these shows just mindless entertainment that viewers don't take seriously? Are they exploitative? Or are they both entertaining and exploitative, which is always a possibility?

Are they equal-opportunity denigrating or do they target the downtrodden in our society? Help out a pop-culture lover who wants to be enlightened and tell me whether you think my hunch is right.


  1. I'll admit to originally watching the first season of Flavor of Love and thinking it hysterical. Now I definitely do agree that it is exploitative, racist and misogynist. So is the current show Charm School which has the ex-contestants of Flavor of Love. They're also doing some new show that's like Flavor of Love with Brett Michaels from Poison. Sigh.

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